American surf-rock pioneer, Dick Dale, famous for his lightning-quick licks, experimentation with reverberation, his custom Fender Stratocaster, and for introducing the World to the 100-watt guitar amplifier, was born Richard Ray Monsour on May 4, 1937. Dale is on Lebanese, Polish and Belarusian decent, and with his family, moved to Orange County, California, from Boston, Massachusetts, in 1954. It was at this time that Dale become a surfer and took an interest in music, learning to play first the drums, then ukulele, trumpet, and guitar.
Early in Dale’s musical career, he was heavily influence by his uncle, who played a Middle Eastern instrument called an Oud, while performing with belly dancers. Dale soaked up this type of music and is considered one of the earliest electric guitarists to use non-Western scales in popular music. Another main influence of Dick Dale’s would be found in his passion for surfing. He helped discover, and promote, what became known as a “wet” sound, due to the use of heavy reverberation. Soon, Dick Dale was known for his fast, staccato picking on a guitar which he played upside-down, due to Dale being left-handed in a world of right-handed guitars. Dale stood out, because he would play by reaching over the fretboard, as opposed to using the proper technique of wrapping his fingers around the neck, up from underneath. Even after left-handed guitars became more readily available, Dale preferred to stick with his unorthodox style. In addition to this, Dale’s flamboyant appearance began to influence a generation of budding guitar heroes, most notably, a young Jimi Hendrix.
Along with his backing band, The Del-Tones, and his own Deltone label, Dick Dale began making a name for himself nationally, starting in 1961, with the release of what is commonly referred to as the first surf rock song, “Let’s Go Trippin’.” He then released “Surf Beat” and “Jungle Fever” locally via his Deltone label. In 1962, Dale’s first full-length effort, Surfers’ Choice, was picked up for national distribution by Capitol Records. Soon, Dale began to appear in films and on the Ed Sullivan Show, playing what would come to be known as his signature song, “Misirlou.” Dick Dale then released his second album, the title of which reflected Dale’s performing nickname, King of the Surf Guitar.
As Dick Dales’ popularity began to soar, and as his songs started running up the charts, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. With sheer determination, in addition to the help of friends like Jimi Hendrix, Dale made a fully recovery. He states that drugs and alcohol have never been a part of his life. Dale discourages the use of these substances by the other members of his band and by the road crew, as well. He stopped eating red meat and studied martial arts for over 30 years. Despite the fact that Dick Dale is 73 years old, he still tours, playing energetic live shows sometimes backed up by Jimmy Dale, his 17-year-old son. Unfortunately, Dick Dale’s rectal cancer reappeared in 2008, but with surgical, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Dale was back on his feet performing.
Dick Dale has always been associated with Fender, using not just Fender amplifiers, but also Fender Stratocaster model guitars. This relationship worked out so well that Fender now manufactures and sells a Dick Dale Custom Shop Stratocaster. The pickups on these are called “Custom Shop 54,” because they are supposed to emulate the sound of the first Strats. Dale uses Fender Dual Showman amps, and is famous for using ample amounts of reverb, which is produced by his reverb unit. His Strats are strung upside-down and include a toggle switch, which bypasses the 3 position blade switch, activating the middle and neck pickups only.