Dick Dale, the ‘King of Surf Guitar,’ Dies at 81
Pioneering surf-rock guitarist Dick Dale has died at the age of 81 after a long bout with various health issues, according to multiple news outlets.
Dale is best known for 1962's ground-breaking, reverb-heavy hit version of the traditional Eastern Mediterranean song "Misirlou," which was re-introduced to the world two decades later via the Pulp Fiction movie and soundtrack.
But his impact went beyond being widely credited as the first rock guitarist to use Middle Eastern and Eastern European melodies and scales in his music. Dale's staccato playing style is considered a huge influence on future generations of musicians.
He was also instrumental in the evolution of the electric amplifier. After blowing out, by his own admission,"about 50" Fender amplifiers, he inspired the company to increase the output transformers on his amps from 10-15 amps to 85. "Leo Fender kept asking me, 'Why do you have to play so loud?'," Dale told The Guitar. “I told him, when you have 100 people come in to see me, it’s okay. But when a theater fills up to 4,000 people, their bodies soak up the bass sound of the guitar coming through the amplifier."
When Fender delivered the newly souped-up amp, Dale was thrilled – temporarily. “When I plugged that speaker into the Showman, it was like going from a bicycle to a Ferrari Testarossa. It was like splitting the atom! And then what happened was, I started jamming that speaker." Further modifications were made to Dale's specifications, resulting in even more powerful amps with dual speakers and a three-tube system.
Watch Dick Dale and the Del Tones Perform 'Misirlou'
In recent years, Dale suffered a myriad of health problems – including two bouts with rectal cancer, kidney failure and damaged vertebrae – that logically should have ended his touring career. However, he says the cost of his treatment required him to stay on the road.
"I can’t stop touring because I will die. Physically and literally I will die," he explained in a 2015 interview with the Pittsburgh City Paper. "I have to raise $3,000 every month to pay for the medical supplies I need to stay alive, and that’s on top of the insurance that I pay for."
In the same interview, Dale insisted on looking at the positive aspects of his life: "I was told 20 years ago that I wouldn’t live much longer, but here I am. I believe our maker has kept [his wife] Lana and I alive to give hope. We’re like Johnny Appleseed, crossing the country and sowing the seeds of survival."