Make a Scene: SURF’S UP Guitar legend Dick Dale

// Tacoma Weekly chats with the guitar legend Dick Dale

Guitar hero Dick Dale, the man credited with pioneering surf music in the 1950s and ‘60s and laying the groundwork for the heavy metal that followed, returns to Tacoma on Nov. 29. At the Swiss Pub he and his band will deliver “Misirlou,” “Let’s Go Trippin’” and other classics that have earned him the distinction at the King of Surf Guitar.  Tacoma Weekly phoned Dale at his home in Balboa, Calif., in anticipation of the event. And the result was an epic, free-wheeling interview that covered everything from the development of his signature sound to his belief in the supernatural and alternative medicine.

Here are a few outtakes. Between now and the show, also look for a few sound bites on our Daily Mash-up blog http://www.tacomaweekly.com/dailymashup. On why he plays with his guitar backwards and upside down: Dale is left-handed but plays guitars designed and strung for right-handed players. “My first instrument was a ukulele,” he explains, “and I held that upside down, backwards ‘cause the book didn’t say, ‘Play it the other way, stupid, you’re left-handed!’” “I did it because all my rhythm was in my left hand playing (percussion) with knives on my mother’s flour pans and sugar cans to the big Harry James records and (drummer) Gene Krupa.” The origins of his stage name: “It was a country disc jockey, about a 350-pound disc jockey that gave me the name Dick Dale instead of Dick Monsour. His name was T. Texas Tiny. 

“I was going to do a song that was later jumped on, before I had a chance to do it, by Pat Boone. ... And he said, ‘You can’t (go by) Richard Monsour. That’s too long. Let’s give you a country name – Dick Dale.’ That’s where it all came from.”  His relationship with inventor and guitar pioneer, Leo Fender: “When I first met Leo Fender, he gave me the Stratocaster that he had just created, in 1954. I said, ‘My name is Dick Dale. I’m a surfer. I’ve really got no money, and I have a lousy guitar I bought from a pawnshop. Can you help me?’ I was with my father at the time. And Leo said, ‘Here, play this guitar. I just made it.’”  It led to a long-running relationship during which Dale helped develop new gear. “Anything that came out of his brain, I was his guinea pig. ... Leo had a favorite saying. He said, ‘When it can stand the barrage of punishment from Dick Dale, then it’s fit for human consumption.’” Speaking of which ...: “When I was trying to make my guitar sound like Gene Krupa’s drums, I blew up over 50 of Leo Fender’s amplifiers. The speakers would catch on fire because, when you’re pushing amperage into an alfa transformer that can’t handle it, it heats up the wires ... and the cloth catches on fire.

“Before me, there were no output transformers that give you the fat, powerful Dick Dale sound because they were all 10 and 15 watts. We created the first 85-watt output transformer. ... That was like going from a V.W. to a Testarossa. That’s when I made people’s ears bleed.  “So, basically, when you get all these bands and all these artists that said they were the first (to play surf music), I’d like to know what they were playing through. An imaginary amplifier? Because I was playing the original prototype amps. They weren’t even on the market. And I was doing this in 1955. (That is) what made the surfing sound.” His belief in the supernatural: Much of the interview focused on his wife and caretaker, Lana, and what Dale described is her ability to communicate with deceased loved ones.  “Lana, being very sensitive since she was a baby, she would talk to spirits. And when she’d wake up in the morning she’d find three claw marks down her back, from the neck down to the base of her spine. And she still gets them today if we start talking about things like that. They go away, but it burns her.”

“My father even tells her what to do with merch. He tells her to make buttons with our pictures on it. But they use her energy, and she becomes ill afterwards. ... When Lana talks to them after a while, she’s almost ready to collapse.”  His declining health: Dale has suffered from colon cancer, diabetes and renal failure. He said he and his wife, a nurse, have turned to alternative medical treatments after Dale suffered complications from chemotherapy and other traditional procedures. “We use what the Egyptians have used for years – hydrogen peroxide, food grade, 35 percent. And that kills all cancer cells. Cancer cells cannot live with oxygen. And we take another thing called Cellfood. “You have to train your mind to think differently, and that’s what we do. It helps other people when they see me performing like I do. They say, ‘How the hell can he do that at 75, and he’s battling cancer and diabetes and renal failure?’ It makes me feel like I’m being kept alive to be Johnny Appleseed ... to help other people with their health.”

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