Dick Dale the King of Surf Guitar Talks Blowouts, Wipeouts, and Animal Screams
But that doesn't mean Dick's a brutal dude. In fact, he's basically a nice guy who likes to chill out, ride waves, and kick back with exotic animals. It's just that whenever he gets a guitar in his hands, he can't help himself from playing insanely loud and brutally hard, blowing up amps, and bursting eardrums.
Last week, Crossfade spoke with the legendary axe man about Hank Williams, big waves, ukeleles, lions, tigers, leopards, Latino tunes, and how to make people's ears bleed.
Crossfade: Why did Dick Dale originally dive into music?
Dick Dale: I always wanted to be a cowboy singer. I listened to Hank Williams. And I was raised on big band and Gene Krupa. That's why I play now with that heavy staccato style like I'm playing drums. I actually started playing on soup cans and flowerpots while listening to big band.
When did you pick up the guitar?
It was an ukelele, back when I was in kindergarten. I was reading a Superman magazine and it said: Sell so many jars of Noxzema skin cream and we'll send you this ukelele. And I got it. But it was a piece of crap, so I filled a red wagon with a bunch of Pepsi and Coke bottles, went down to the store, cashed them, and I got a basic ukelele for $6.
Later, I got a regular acoustic guitar. When I would stay at my grandma and grandpa's farm, I would go walking through the swamps with one of my buddies in Whitman, Massachussetts, and there were a lot of these guys strumming. It was like in Deliverance. But it was pretty wild. And my buddy had a guitar for sale, so he sold it to me for $8, and I paid him 25 or 50 cents a week.
And when I started playing the guitar, I used the ukelele chords. Plus, I held the ukelele upside-down when I first got it. You know, the book didn't say: Turn it the other way, stupid. You're left handed. And that's how I started playing upside-down backwards 'cause all my rhythm was in my left hand.
At what point did you move out to the West Coast from Massachussetts?
In 1954, I finished 11th grade and said so long to everybody because my father was hired by Howard Hughes to come to California. He was a precision machinist. And so that's where I ended up finishing my senior year of high school.
Then surfing became my life. And at the same time, I was raising over 40 different species of animals -- lions, tigers, elephants, leopards, hawks, eagles, everything. You name it and I've raised them to preserve their breeds before the poachers killed them all into extinction. That was my life. I had all these animals and I lived with them, slept with them, ate with them. I surfed from sunup to sundown. And I played my guitar in between.