Interview with The KING of Surf Guitar - Dick Dale
Good evening Dick, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Please can you give us an insight into Dick Dale.
DD: My Ziddu and my Sittu were born in Beirut. On My Mother’s side my grandparents were from Poland.
My Uncle taught me how to play the Derabke (small drum), and the Oude. They would play Misserlou on the Oude. A lot of people get things mixed up. They say that Misirlou is a Greek folk song, but the word Misserlou means The Egyptian. It was an Arabic Love song “Wein NA Habibi, WeiNA Habibi…”. It was done solo. When I came to California in 1954, and starting playing to people, a young boy about 9 years old, said to me “Can you play something fast, on the guitar? You play so well.” I was singing Country songs. I would give him the beat of Gene Krupa, because drums was my first instrument. I had all the rhythm in my hands, especially my left hand, so what I did was, I told the young boy to come back the next night, and I would have something to play for him. I started saying ot myself that I could play the Boogie Woogie, but I wanted something more, so I started playing Misirlou, and started In South America, in Africa, The Zulu’s in South Africa, and the Aborigine in Australia, whom I have played music for, they all get their chants and dances from the one beat when they hit the spear to the ground. This is what Gene Krupa studied. He wanted to know why the people became mesmerized and hypnotized just because the average person counts on the one, not like a musician. They count on the “one and …” He was the first person to make drums a solo instrument in the big band. I learned that style and I put it into my picking, like Gene Krupa would play on the drumsticks. That is how I developed my style. Now, the sounds that I get out of my guitar would come from the 45 species of wild animals from all over the World I had lions tiger, leopards, jaguars, gorilla’s other apes, elephants, hawks eagles from all over the World. I was taking care of them and raising them so that they would not be killed by poachers. I am trying to preserve them. Every time I came home, my animals (did not live in small
cages). I have a lot of property, many acres, and I built big running pens for them so that they would be comfortable. I used to be with them, hand feed them, lay down and sleep next to them. They would call me, like the African Lion, would call me at 5h30 every day when he wanted to eat. I then started doing my slides on the guitar like that (their calls). My Mountain Lion would make a screaming (waaaaaaauw sound) when he called me, so I would make that sound on my guitar. My Elephant would also make a screaming sound. I sounded like the historical taradactle bird. I would make all the sounds on my guitar, from my animals. My first sounds came from imitating Gene Krupa. I wanted my guitar to sound like Gene Krupa’s drums. In those days (the 1950’s), they did not make output transformers that could do that. They were 10 – 15 watts with 3, 6 and 8 inch speakers, so when I met Leo Fender, he became like a second father, and when he gave me a guitar (I was a surfer and did not have much money), it was as Fender Stratocaster guitar, and he wanted me to tell him what I thought of it. At that stage I had never been a guitarist, as I did not know scales as I was never taught. I just made my instruments scream with pain or pleasure. He started laughing when I picked it up to play, and asked my how come I was holding it upside down and backwards. I said to him that that was the way I had learned on the Ukulele, because the “book” did not say “turn it the other way, because you are left handed”. I just couldn’t understand why my fingers wouldn’t go on the dots ….. Because I was holding it upside down, and the cords were constructed for a right handed person, so I forced my fingers and learned how to play that way. I first saw Jimmy Hendrix when he was playing in a little bar in Pasadena, with Little Richard, and he was playing bass. He came to me after the show and asked “How do you do all these slides, and get these sounds. He couldn’t play the same way I was playing because he was a true left handed player, so we made him a left handed neck, so that a left handed player could play on a left handed neck. If you were left handed, you would not be able to play on a right handed guitar, but I was left handed and I was able to play on a right handed guitar because I was playing it upside down backwards and that is the way I played all me life. Anyhow, that is just a portion of the story, and then, when I got started with Gene Krupa’s drums and we had to make a output transformer that could make the big fat sound. Leo Fender was the first. He was like Einstein, like we split the atom together. We created a 85 watt output transformer that peaked at 100 watts and then we needed a speaker so we went to JBL Lansing and said that we wanted a 15 inch speaker with a 11 pound magnet on the back, and I wanted aluminium dust cover on the front. They thought we were crazy. They said “What do you think you are going to do with it ….. Put it on a tug boat in the Ocean. Leo said “If you want my business …. Make it? ” They made it. And it became the 15 inch Z130, We built the cabinet 3 feet high 2 feet wide and 12 inches deep, packed it full of fibreglass and only made one hole for the speaker. That was called the Showman Amplifier, because he called me a Showman, the way I used to jump around on stage. That was the first
amplifier which was ever created with the big transformer which was 85 watts peaking 100 watts. When I wanted to put two 15 inch speakers, (I wanted it to sound even louder) like Gene Krupa’s drums, Leo went back to the drawing board, although he never had a reason to do this before, as he could not understand why I wanted to play so loud. When he came and stood in front of me, with 4000 people around me, then he saw what happens, when he had the small amplifiers. The big sound disappeared into the people’s bodies and clothing and he said “Now I know what Dick Dale is trying to tell me …. Back to the drawing board. He called me up weeks later and said “ I have got it ! I have created the first 85 watter. Now, when I put the second speaker in, we had to change OHMS on the output transformer and what I did was divided the two speakers, the same 3 foot high cabinet and he made a 100 watt output
transformer that peaked at 180 watts, to this day no one has ever done anything like that, that favors highs, mids, and lows. All transformers only favored highs, mids or lows, not all three together, and Leo was the one who accomplished that, and that was called “The Dual Showman”, meaning two speakers in it. That was like when we first made the showman with the 85 watter, peaking 100 watts and I plugged my guitar into that, it was like
going from a VW Bug to a Testerossa. Then, when we created the twin speakers, I was still tweaking the speakers so we took them back to Lansing and we told them to rubberize the ridge with rubber so that the speaker would flow more evenly. It was twisting. They did that, and that is the exact stuff that I play through today, my original output transformers was no more to be made, and when I plug my guitar into that 100 watt output transformer (peaking at 180 watts), that is when I started making peoples ears bleed. They said I was louder than Motorhead.
LebaneseSA : I have seen you several times in the South Bay, Rodondo Beach, Mimoso Beach especially when you have done concerts. I have been to many of your concerts when I lived in California.
DD: So you know what I am talking about
LebaneseSA : I wanted to ask you something which is very important. It says in your Bio that you have never used alcohol or drugs which I think is fantastic, because that is such an amazing testimony for the young people today, that you can be a Rock and Roller, you can be a World famous guitarist and you have never used anything.
DD: That is how I have been fighting Cancer for the last 8 to 9 years and fighting diabetes. I am in renal failure as we speak. The radiation destroyed my bladder, putting holes in my intestines, and my wife Lana, she was trained by a World War II nurse, in St Petersburg, Florida where she took care of The Military Hospital there which is the largest. She saved my life three times when mistakes were made by Surgeons and doctors. Lana has also never put a drug in her body, drank alcohol, or smoked, nor do we eat red meat. We don’t use any drugs whatsoever, no pain pills, no matter how much pain I am in, or she is in, because she has fibromyalgia throughout her body and also a painful tumor on her thyroid in her throat. They cannot operate on her as the medicine will no help her, and the medicine she will need to take once they operate on her, she cannot take. So we are both a couple of sick persons who help each other, but we try and help others with the same diseases and we try to tell them what we do and how they should not lay down and live “dead” and feel sorry for themselves, and how to go out and help other people like we do. While they are helping other people they don’t think of the pain they are in. My wife moves around all day long, we are never out of each other’s sight because of the pain that she goes through, but we are Soul Mates. We live in the desert, and she feeds a dozen coyotes every day. They all come to her with their babies. She goes out in the middle of the night when she does her rounds, and feeds them. That keeps her mind going. Same way with me, what I do, and Yes, I have never put that in my body. I did Martial Arts all my life. In fact I have a T-shirt, which is a picture of me looking into the sky and right next to my head it says “YOUR BODY FOLLOWS YOUR MIND”, which means, don’t allow such weakness to creep into your mind that you succumb to others around you that are killing themselves with drugs, alcohol and everything else like that. Take complete control of your mind.
LebaneseSA : Dick, what type of Martial Arts did you do?
DD: I used to make a joke when anybody asked me that question. It is all the same. And really it is, but certain Countries want to specialize in certain things. Tae Kwon Do is kicking, Aikido is another way of manipulating your hands, Okinawan Shorin is good street fighting, and a gentleman who was a very close Soul mate to me, Ed Parker, who passed away, took Kenpo Karate to The United States (he was trained by Chow), and Chow gave him his Blessings to bring Kenpo to The
United States and he formed a different way of using it and delivering. He made up his own weapons (when you do a strike, we call that a weapon), and even a blow or blocking is a weapon. He created his own. He was so dynamic it was just unbelievable. I first studied Judo when I was in my teens, and then I met a man from Japan, Fumio Demura and he trained me Wada style (Japanese Style) and that’s a whole different story on how one should be trained. We don’t get the proper training here in The United States because we don’t have the discipline and the respect that they have, because they have a history, and the history is that we don’t give you bicycles and tricycles and cars and all the other stuff. You respect your heritage, you respect your parents and in Japan they don’t give you a Black Belt until you have been training for 10 years, and things like that. If they did that here in The United States the guy would go broke because he has got to pay his rent. I then studied Wado, and then from Wado, because I traveled all over the World, and met so many different Masters who took a liking to me and they gave me a special name, and they took me underground with them, and they taught me special ways, and Ed Parker’s Shito is one of them. I then went and studied Okinawan Shiru, and then of course Kenpo Karate with ED, and basically what I teach people is that everything that is done on the street is done with 4 essentials.
We had a saying that he who hesitates, meditates in horizontal position, so I teach people street fighting techniques, (none of the fancy kicking, as all of those things can be blocked), mainly with your hands, and what you can do with your hands , and I will save your life that way and get it over and done quickly. That has been my life and my lifestyle.
and Lana Dale have impressed the writers tremendously. Not only has Dick been a clean living person all his life, with a God given musical talent, he also has a tremendous knowledge in the Martial Arts. He and Lana have always advocated clean living, and the fact that drugs and alcohol is not and never has been a necessity to make it in the music industry. They have many adopted animals on their Ranch in California, and Lana is actively involved in the preservation of Wildlife, and has been extremely upset (as is this Editor), on the killing of Rhinos, by so called “homo sapiens”, who are not man enough, and need aledged elements from the Rhino horn, to “try and be a man”.
This Interview has been one of the highlights of our lives, and we wish both Dick and Lana many years of Health and Happiness, and Thank them from the bottom of our hearts, for the positive impact theyhave had in many peoples lives. Dick Dale is not just “The King of Surf Guitar”, he is a Legend.
Dick and Lana Dale live on their Ranch in California, and spend a lot of their time caring for Wildlife.
When asked, if he would ever consider coming to South Africa to perform, Dick did say that he would be interested.
Editors Note : For those who have never had the opportunity to see Dick Dale play, there a clips of him on You Tube. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest Musicians who ever lived.
Dick Dale passed away of Heart failure on 16 March 2019 at Loma Linda University Medical Center, Loma Linda, California, United States