Close your eyes and imagine a tall, fit, good-looking Middle-Eastern man with long, gleaming hair pulled back into a silky pony tail. He’s the picture of health and confidence as he walks on stage. When he speaks into the microphone, his voice is a low growl. A hush comes over the crowd. Then he starts to play.
He is left-handed, but his guitar is strung for a right-hander. His left hand strikes, plucks, and bounces on the strings, pausing frequently between beats to lash out sideways before meeting up with the strings again. The fingers of his right hand move so fast you can’t keep up. They’re just a blur while they jump around from fret to fret, string to string, each note distinct and yet part of a moving sheet of sound. The music is other-worldly, hypnotic, and wild. And yet, it’s fresh, loud, and in your face, like getting hit with a wave. Just when you think you know where those fingers are going to end up next, his right arm pivots around, and now he’s playing the notes upside down.
He pauses between songs to purr deeply into the microphone. “We sound like crap,” he jokes, asking the sound man to “give it more of an edge.” He gets the crowd singing along to “House of the Rising Sun” with the simple statement, “You know how it goes.” There’s a commanding presence, and at the same time, an intimacy, with the audience. He’s played with the best and influenced the rest, including Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and the whole heavy metal scene. He advises people to wear earplugs to his concerts. The man is a pro, and he knows it. Got the picture?
Okay. How many of you were envisioning a 75-year-old Lebanese/Polish guy named Dick Dale? Well, if you were, maybe you were at Tucson's Club Congress last night. I was there, and as far as I’m concerned, Dick Dale is still King of the Surf Guitar.
Dick Dale (whose birth name is Richard Monsour) was born in Boston, where he learned to play the tarabaki drums while his uncle played the oud and his other relatives belly-danced. After moving to southern California at age 17, he took up surfing, and before very long he'd invented a brand new music genre -- surf music -- to emulate the sound of the waves he rode. The combination of exotic scales, distortion, loud amplification, and pounding drums gave his songs a wet, wavy, and exciting feel.
Dick Dale may have created a wild sound, but he's actually a clean-living citizen who doesn't smoke or eat red meat, and he says he's never used alcohol or drugs. He's even an environmental activist. What’s not to love about this man? I’m so glad I stumbled upon his show last night. What a legendary artist!
Here’s a link to a short video I took of his first song last night:
Now for another surf song, click on our Music link and listen to Pacific Buffalo's own Chuck Phillips performing his original surf song, "Old Man in the Surf"!