Dick Dale articulates his views on surfing, music, life

By Noah Lopez

Arizona Daily Wildcat

It's been a strange career that has led surf legend Dick Dale to Tucson this week.

From the late '50s records he cut for Delphi/Deltone records, to his inclusion on the immensely popular "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack, Dale has maintained a steady popularity with occasional peaks. With the last three years also seeing Dale resume a critically acclaimed recording career, Dale is definitely in the midst of one of his biggest peaks.

His recent work has been marked by the fast guitar riffing that earned him the title of "king of the surf guitar" in the '50s, but this time it's blended with a tour de force of volume. "When I went into the studio for the first time, the engineers heard me play and I scorched their eardrums. So they put all kinds of limiters on my guitar. When I heard my first album I broke it against the wall. They made me sound so tinny."

Dale's latest releases, Tribal Thunder and Unknown Territory, both on Hightone Records, are filled with strong themes about the environment, government and society in general. Dick Dale has a lot to say about a lot of things, something that quickly revealed itself in the Wildcat's one-sided phone conversation. This chatty ability has also landed Dale a column in the forthcoming Music Confidential magazine, titled "Pissed On and Pissed Off". Here is a partial transcript of the Wildcat's conversation.

Wildcat: Do you still have a surf store on Balboa?

Dick Dale: No . (laughs) God, no! Jeez Louise! Let's get one thing straight. Dick Dale don't play surf music. The Beach Boys play surf music. Let me explain. San Francisco started the whole thing off on Dick Dale. One of the stations there handed me a list, said "Look, here's our top 100 alternative grunge songs. I tried to be polite and nice, but I don't recognize one song on the entire list. Except Dick Dale is No. 1. Texans call my music "Dick Rock," my fans are called "Dick Heads." You can't call music surf rock and get that kind of response . surf is watered down instrumentals.

Now I surf. I surfed all my life until the water became a cesspool. As the years go by, my music has always been an extension of power. Mother earth humbling you. You think you're hot shit? Go out and face a 30 foot wave. Go into a cave with a tiger. Music is an emotional thing. I don't play to musicians. Hell, I can't even play a scale. I play to people. My music is straight out there. It's like martial arts karate.

My music is an attitude . Gene Krupa was my first idol, and drums were my first instrument. I play like him. Music is sex, it's sexuality. When you keep it simple like that, it will reach the people. That's the reason why we sell out wherever we go. We'll play and we'll have skinheads, college kids, skaters, surfers, college professors who are like "I was into Dick Dale when I was 14." Music is a neutralizer . it soothes the beast. I spent all my life trying to figure out why people are trying to kill each other. Forget it. There is no end. It's the insecurities the white men have.

I've always said, the only ego you should have is to take a bath so you don't stink like shit when you go outside.

Let me tell you what I'm proud of. My son, Jimmy Dale, he just became the youngest person ever endorsed by Zildjian cymbals. When my wife was pregnant, she was also my roadie, so when my son was born he opened his mouth and a spiel of riffs just came out . "Dit dit DAT!" When I finish a show, I don't do an encore. I just played music for an hour and a half, they know what I sound like. I sit on the stage and meet the people for a couple of hours, sign autographs. While I'm doing that, Jimmy gets on the drums. At first people are like, "how cute, a three year old is gonna bang on the drums." But my boy can play! So he comes with me when I tour.

When I recorded my first album (for Hightone), we slept and lived in the studio. I got it to sound exactly like I sound live. Everything I did on that CD . it's like Salvador Dali painting his life! I did it in three and a half weeks. Not six months. Not $80,000 $20,000. No fancy limos, no fancy hotels. When it came out it didn't get sent to the mainline radio stations. People were like "It's a mother fucker!" It's so natural and real. In every city we played, no one could buy the CD . it was sold out! It was the surfers that made Dick Dale in the beginning, and now it's the grassroots college scene.

I'm enjoying it. I've always said, "Dick Dale will not die in a rocking chair. He will die on stage in a big fucking explosion!" I'm good, and I'm good at what I do.

In its fullest, music is honesty. It's not scale bullshit. It's not how fast you play, it's what you play. I've never hung around with show biz types. I surfed, I played, I play with tigers, I do martial arts. It's honesty. People always say you have to love yourself before you can love other things. That's bullshit. If you love yourself first, you'll never do anything for no one! I can't tell you what chocolate tastes like, nor can you me. You either like it or you don't. If you like it, great! We'll go eat chocolate together.

WC: Well .

DD: That oughtta drain your tape recorder's batteries!

WC: How did what your parents listened to when you were young affect your playing?

DD: I started listening to the Harry James Orchestra, and that's what turned me on to Gene Krupa. I would sit around the house and play on cans with spoons and knives. I played every thing. I was the first creator of heavy music.

WC: How has it been working for Hightone Records, as opposed to working for Delphi when you were younger?

DD: I was too young to know what was going on. People have gotten all that shit wrong anyway. Everybody thinks the surf sound was reverb, but that wasn't even invented yet . There's no reverb on "Surfer's Choice" which made me king of the surf guitar!

See Dick Dale for yourself tomorrow night at Club Congress. Local DJ Kidd Squidd will spin discs before the show, with Al Perry kicking things off at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

Read Next Article