Dick Dale, The King of the Surf Guitar, has passed away at the age of 81. Born in 1937, Dale was a surfer and self-taught musician who defined the musical sound of surfing with his blaring and lightning-fast guitar playing in the ’50s. A natural showman, Dale continued to unabashedly shred at high volume (hence "The Father of Loud" being one of his many monikers) live and in concert up until the time of his death. He had tour dates scheduled throughout 2019 at the time of his passing.
Although the cause of Dale's death has not been released, he was open about his ongoing battles with diabetes and renal cancer. Despite his health issues, Dale continued to give energetic live performances.
Dale was a multi-instrumentalist and didn't hesitate to hop on the drums or whip out a trumpet at his concerts. As a self-taught musician, Dale claimed to have never learned to read music. The left-handed dale learned to play the guitar upside down. Why? "Because the damn book never told me I was playing upside down," Dale said at a recent concert. The unorthodox approach stuck throughout his career.
With appearances in several Hollywood films based around surfing and hits like "Miserlou," the opening song to Quentin Tarantino's Academy Award-winning film "Pulp Fiction", Dale's iconic sound has a mainstream presence that transcends decades.
Pioneering "surf rock" barely scratches the surface of Dale's accomplishments. Leo Fender, founder of Fender Guitars, was a close friend to Dale and took it upon himself to engineer an amplifier that Dale could not destroy–Dale was known to crank amps until they blew. Fender and Dale's relationship led to the creation of several gold standard sounds and pieces of rock and roll gear, including the Fender Stratocaster guitar–which Dale continued to play into his later years. At a recent concert, Dale lamented how everyone wanted his guitar. "What's the name of that institution that's trying to take my guitar again?" Dale asked his wife Lana, who was sitting side stage. She answered, "The Smithsonian."
Along with his enthusiasm for surfing, loud music, fast cars, motorcycles, and other "most interesting man in the world" vitae, Dale also enjoyed raising exotic cats–like tigers and leopards. Dale would allegedly get deep cuts from playing with his wild animal pets, and when he got tired of going to the emergency room, he learned how to stitch himself up.
Along with his hits and accolades, Dale's freewheeling approach to music, innovation and life in general will remain an enduring source of inspiration for countless people. To read more about Dale's fascinating life, head over to the Encyclopedia of Surfing.