Let The Music Do The Talking #4 : Dick Dale

#interviews #dick-dale

"You could call me a rebel... but what I really am, is a no nonsense honest person"

Let's start with that distinctive guitar sound of yours. A lot has been said (sometimes wrongly, which I know has frustrated you) about this outrageous, throbbing, heavy, machine-gun, staccato-picking, roaring-waves, chopping sound and the non-Western scales that you sometimes use. You yourself have said that your inspiration was the famous jazz drummer Gene Krupa and his sound based on that of native drummers at fertility dances in the jungle, and... tarabaki drumming. In short, it's really all about pulsation - a mesmerizing, sensual, even sexual sound. For many people, however, your sound is all about heavy metal, even violence sometimes, and I doubt if they would associate it with sensuality. Do you think they have misinterpreted your music? Or is violence in fact an important part of it?

Violence has nothing to do with it.... In one sense it is a powerful focusing on pulsation to a count starting on the one, like Gene Krupa playing his drums on the floor toms. On another sense I play with a very romantic feeling when I play country love songs or when I play Latino songs. Everything comes from the romantic side of me. The power songs I play is like I am in the tube of Mother Nature with my board or I am listening to my lions and tigers calling me when they want to eat... I imitate their sounds on the strings of my guitar.

Your technique. You once said that you're not a musician, referring to the fact that you are completely self-taught - which I think includes all kinds of guitars, from bass guitar to ukulele and banjo, but also trumpet, saxophone, trombone, xylophone, piano... and probably many more! Anyway, you even said: "I'm not a guitar player". We know that you have many other passions (like Sky Ranch or martial arts) but do you mean that your guitar playing, although important, should be considered as just another aspect of your life?

All types of music is what I play, but like everything else in life. There are many windows in my life, building houses, flying my planes, hanging out on my yacht, geology, history of this planet, dealing with the children and the elderly that have the same diseases that I have. I can go on and on and that would fill a book. Curiosity is the driving force that makes me tick.

Your independence. For obvious reasons, you seem to be irritated by the persistent inaccurate statements about your life and work - about your "Lebanese descent"...

I am proud of my heritage, both of them. My fathers parents were born in Beirut Lebanon and my mothers parents were born in Poland and went to school in Russia. I love the history of all races and I feel that everyone should take the time to study them and they might learn to respect them much more deeply with respect, learning about their hardships that they all had to endure to survive. That is why I have always been a supporter of the indigenous people of this earth.

... about surf music being invented in the 60s (instead of the 50s)...

I started playing my strumming style when I was in the 7th grade of junior high school. I started playing "Misirlou" back in Boston, Massachusetts when I was 12 years old, that's when I developed my style of strumming from listening to Gene Krupa. It became more intense when I came to California when I started surfing and raising lions and tigers and other types of exotic animals to protect them from the poachers in the jungle.

... about the surfing sound being about reverb (when there's no reverb at all on your first album Surfer's Choice)...

Leo and I created the reverb to make my voice sustain when I sang. I stole the idea from taking apart a Hammond organ and found the reverb tank mounted inside.

... etc. - to say nothing of the sound engineers who tried to impress you and thought that they knew how to capture your sound better than yourself! On the other hand, you once said: "The only honesty I've found is in rare people, like surfers with the spirituality of the waves. Also in animals". I certainly don't want to push this too far but would I be wrong in saying that you seem to feel rather bitter towards some parts of the music industry?...

I don't have bitterness towards anything, I am just wise of the actions and the operations of the business world. Look at how governments are run. So I just try to inform the young beginning innocent musicians about the industry before they make a mistake and sign their life away.

... Do you think your career might have gone in a different direction if you had met different people? Or do you feel that the music industry will never change and that all in all you enjoy being "the bad guy in the system"?

I never thought about my career, I just did what I was told to do by my dad. He was always yelling at me cause I was always surfing instead of going to the office to meet people in the business. Yes, you could call me a rebel... but what I really am, is a no nonsense honest person. I won't take crap from anyone let alone the business world. I have never put drugs, booze nor do I smoke or put red meat into my body, my body is my Temple. I walk my own path.

Correct me if I'm wrong but the "Dick Dale legend" (let's put it this way!) started with a series of gigs in the second half of 1961 at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa...

It started in the late 50's in Balboa Ca. at a place called "The Rinky Dink Ice Cream Parlor". It had a Folk Singing area attached to the side of it and that's where I started playing in Balboa. I later opened the "Rendezvous Ballroom" where all the big bands played in the past.

... This particular period of your life has always fascinated me: with Elvis Presley just back from the army, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran dead, Jerry Lee Lewis boycotted on the radio, Little Richard becoming a born-again Christian, Chuck Berry in prison and Gene Vincent in England, rock 'n' roll was supposed to be dead... and along you came - on your own - with your very own surf music phenomenon. From 17 surfers in sandals and ties on opening night to 3,000 people a few weeks later, your sold-out gigs with the Del-Tones, which soon became known as "stomps" with a ban on alcohol and a dress code, created the legend of Dick Dale as "the King Of The Surf Guitar". Do you remember when you realized that you had created a new "Dalemania" phenomenon?

Nope... Never did, I just played like my dad wanted me to. I was more interested in surfing and being with my animals. Remember: Thoughts become Words, Words become Actions, Actions become Habits, Habits become your Character, Your Character becomes your Destiny.

Dick Dale's official website : www.dickdale.com