On Monday, while driving to work, the BBC announced the passing of Dick Dale. I first heard the name Dick Dale many years back in a guitar book and it made reference to his hypersonic stacatto picking style. “Miserlou“, its electric tempo and machine like riffing with a middle eastern melody – sounds wildly different from the usual radio riff-raff from the 60s.
While he’s most famously remembered for “Miserlou”, his very first album has a surprisingly different tone. From the bluesy pop shuffle of “Let’s Go Tripping” to the bass heavy chug intermixed with indulgent tom tom rolls of “Surfing Drums”, the surf-loving Dick channeled his joy of surfing into his music. But history wasn’t exactly kind to Dale: his music was overshadowed by the more lyrically talented fellow Californians “The Beach Boys”. Tracks like “Surfin Safari”, “Surfin USA” and “Surfer Girl” stayed on the airwaves (and minds of the USA) while none Dale’s really took off.
His evolution and experimentation into the racing scene of the Hot Rod Movement was also a failure. Dialling down his usual speed and adding more vocals just wasn’t his strong suit. (The cheesy lyrics of “Big Black Cad” and “The Scavenger”.
come to mind). Disappointing though because there are some gems which maintained his trademark mad tempo like “Night Rider” and “The Wedge”.
His battle with cancer forced him off almost into obscurity and it wasn’t till much later that Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction brought him back into the public consciousness again. His reappearance marked a succession of new albums. But gone were the bluesy pop rock melodies of the 60s; replacing it was the heavier, bass heavy songs like “Nitro”, “Nitrus” and “Scalped” but somehow, they don’t match up to the magic of his earlier songs.
What I play now isn’t surf music. It’s too powerful. I used to go through paper bags; now I go through brick walls. I play hard.
Surf music may be dead, but long live Dick Dale.