Dick Dale has been wowing audiences with his searing guitar sound for over 50 years. He has 11 albums to date and is currently working on a country album with his son Jimmy Dale. Dick Dale and His Del-tones’ first album was “Surfers Choice” in 1962, which was recorded live in the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, Calif.
Born in Boston, he moved with his family to California in 1954. He started playing guitar in public at local establishments and quickly gained popularity. Dale’s version of the song “Misirlou” was chosen by director Quentin Tarantino for the movie “Pulp Fiction”—it set the tone for the movie and is featured as the opening song on the movie’s trailer.
Dale and his band are currently on tour, and we had a chance to catch up with him at his hotel in New Orleans. He was preparing for his gig at Howlin’ Wolf, which he mentioned he has been playing for over 18 years.
While we were talking he was coordinating the delivery of a very special tuna sandwich from a nearby restaurant. Although he is primarily vegetarian, he has recently been including fish in his diet recently.
He has faced a number of health issues over the years, however. He was told by doctors that he should not tour and should not continue playing—but he just can’t do that.
Before we started our conversation and I launched into my preplanned list of questions, he stopped me and said, “Have you ever seen me play?” I had to say no. He said he normally does not conduct interviews with those who have not seen him play, but he said we could just talk and see what happens.
IN: You’ve been touring quite a bit recently. How is that going?
DALE: Yes, so many places in the last few weeks. This tour is very important; I am a fanatic about what’s out there. I have a clean lifestyle, and I want the same thing for my son, Jimmy Dale. I only hire people that are alcohol and drug free. It makes for a clean sound. We show everyone that you can be successful, in the rock-and-roll line of work, and not indulge in drugs, alcohol and tobacco. My son has been asked to play drums for so many major rock-and-roll bands, but it is not in the cards if the whole band is not clean. I am proud of what I am showing people.
IN: What is your association with Fender?
DALE: For years I have been screaming for a new guitar design, and Fender listened. This particular design is a 3-inch deep, one wood, mahogany, acoustic guitar that allows strumming of the guitar, then their arm can drop straight down without muscle cramps–common when playing for an extended amount of time. We played the new guitars at a recent charity event, and the crowd went wild. The new guitars are selling like crazy all over the world. I also helped create new amps that would make the sound of my guitar larger than life. I would blow out the others and helped develop the 85 watt and the 100 watt Fender Showman Amp. It made the crowds’ ears bleed. It was like making a peddle push cart into a Testarossa. Les Paul was known for inventing the electric guitar–I put the electricity into it.
(Some of the musicians that have created signature guitars for Fender include Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Billy Corgan and John Mayer, among others)
IN: When and where was your first gig?
DALE: My first show was in 1955 in Southwest Los Angeles, a show called Town Hall Party. This was the time before Johnny Cash wore black; he wore a baby blue suit with white piping. I played with some well-known people there. Then I won a contest playing an Elvis song and was the opening act for Elvis’s movies—he wore a red suit and played between movies. Then I talked the owners of the Rendezvous Ballroom to reopen the place and let me play my music in there. They did, and at first there were only about 15 surfers coming to watch us play. As soon as the word spread, there were over 4,000.
IN: During the interview you have been talking to your wife Lana. How long have you been married?
DALE: That is a story you are not going to believe. When she was a very little girl, growing up caring for ailing parents and not having a lot of money, her Mom gave her one of my records, “Tigers Loose.” At the moment she saw the album, she looked at her mother and said, “I am going to be with him the rest of my life.” After we had lived very full lives, we came together through emails and very long telephone conversations, even Skype. She has been taking care of me ever since. We like the same music, travel together and she enjoys all the animals on the ranch.
IN: You were recently nominated by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 100 guitarists in the world. How did that honor make you feel?
DALE: I don’t pay attention to those accolades. I have had so many wonderful things happen to me. A documentary of my life and music was entered into the Congressional Hall of Records, to be preserved for future generations. In the town where I was born, Boston, a picture of me was entered in the presidential library. And recently I was inducted into the Rock and Roll Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville. Being nominated by my peers was the highest honor.
In addition to the show at 8 p.m., Vinyl has added a small classic car/hot rod show. At the 5 ½ Bar, on the back deck and in the back parking lot from 5-8 p.m. they will have oldies music, drinks, barbeque and a hot rod/classic car show. Then during a break in the actual show they are having a pin-up girl contest.
DICK DALE SURF GUITAR LEGEND AND LARAMIE DEAN
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 18
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox Place COST: $20