It seems the King is dead. This morning social media was swirling with rumors of his death, but any sources seemed less than reputable. At this point enough people that have worked with him closely appear to be confirming it.
Dick Dale was a person of hyperbole that insisted upon living his way. He crafted a guitar sound that sounded like nobody else, but refused to let that limit him, spanning his musical repertoire to several instruments. He worked with Leo Fender to make his sound louder. He practiced martial arts, raised tigers, flew planes. He refused to be hampered by thieving record companies and illness, and supported himself through self-managed touring, comeback records and beating those illnesses.
Dick Dale is directly responsible for this radio show. My love for this music started when a friend left his Greatest Hits in my car’s CD player. I have interviewed him on my radio show twice, and both times he took his time and gave my little college radio show the same attention he would Rolling Stone. “Interview” is a bit generous, it’s more like I fed him talking points that I knew would set him in motion. It was absolutely surreal and absolutely a high point of my radio career. You can listen to one of those interviews here.
Dick Dale is a distinction between ego and conceit. Dick Dale would be the first to tell you about his accomplishments, and he was certainly entitled to do so. That attitude screams out of his Showman amps. But as huge of a person as he was, he always made room for others. Not only to sign merch after a show, or to do an interview for me, but for anybody.
The 60’s surf music has a sound and energy unlike anything else, and not only did he shape that sound, but his material still sounds otherworldly compared to the rest. “King of the Surf Guitar” has such an amazing presence and space, “Let’s Go Trippin” is the definition of a lighthearted beach twister, “Misirlou” was nothing short of a statement of how guitar could be used in rock & roll, while “Mr Eliminator” showcased the force that surf music pioneered not by virtuosity but by songwriting. But then Dick Dale comes back in the 90’s and redefines his sound, again refusing to be limited.
In some ways surf has continued without him. “King of the Surf Guitar” was his phrase from the 60’s, later choosing monikers such as “Grandfather of Heavy Metal” and “Father of Loud”. But it goes without saying that nearly everybody playing surf music today owes an enormous debt to him.
Dick Dale never really got his full due in life, and I hope that in death the world will come to appreciate him better. I hope that giants of rock & roll will never have to push themselves like he did later in life just for the sake of staying alive. But at the same time, who would Dick Dale be if it came easy?
*Quick note on authenticity. There is an article from a site called MediaMass stating that this is a hoax. Take a quick look around that site. The site itself is a hoax. There is another site called California Rocker saying that he has passed, however it cites “sources”. That site isn’t quite legit enough either. I decided to make the call after Dusty Watson who often serves as touring drummer for Dick Dale announced it. I will admit that it's not 100% certain -- some insist that they need to hear it from Lana Dale, or at least hear it from somebody that said they heard it from Lana, but Dusty confirmed that it was true to a dutifully thorough Deke Dickerson. I've really tried to get to the bottom of it, but I feel certain enough. I'd love to be wrong.
edit: The Guardian has confirmed it with Sam Bolle, his touring bassist.