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The King Of The Surf Guitar Amps Up The Volume At The Talkhouse

Originally Posted: September 03, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

Jimmy and Dick Dale each played custom made Fender guitars recently at The Stephen Talkhouse. Images courtesy of Google Images

Ammagansett - You can hear his influence in every early Beach Boys hit and in the soundtrack of every beach blanket movie of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. It is called surf rock and it was created by the "King of the Surf Guitar," Dick Dale. He recently packed out The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett with a midweek performance and Hamptons.com caught up with him a few hours prior to the show.

Dale was born Richard Monsour in Boston and moved to California with his family as a teenager in 1954. He took to the water as a surfer and began his musical life as a drummer before moving on to accomplishing others instruments including, of course, the guitar. Dale did not create the surf rock sound in the 1960s as is often noted, but in the 1950s as he tried to develop a sound that would reflect what he was hearing in his mind as he surfed the waves of the California coast.

Both father and son recently performed in Amagansett. Photo by Joe Strand

During that era he and his band, The Del-Tones, were breaking all the attendance records at the legendary Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa and the release of his first single, "Let's Go Trippin'," in 1961 is indeed considered the first surf rock song. Although credited with creating reverb for the guitar, it was his tremolo guitar picking that is the real signature of surf rock, as the reverb came along after Dale had created the signature style that he described as, "The heavy machine gun staccato style of playing the guitar." He later explained, "The reverb was not put on the amplifier for the guitar, I put it on for my voice. Reverb didn't create the surf sound; it has nothing to do with the surf sound."

Throughout our conversation Dale referenced drummer Gene Krupa as his musical influence, "Because of Gene Krupa, because I loved drums, because of how he played, the way he played. I got the rhythms from his drumming that I use in the way I play the guitar. He got his rhythms from the native jungle people, from the rhythms used in their fertility dances. They mesmerized themselves as Krupa mesmerized his audiences. Whereas Buddy Rich was a technician, he took drumming into outer space, but played to musicians, Krupa played to people."

Dale's custom Stratocaster Electric Guitar.

Dale shared an early story of being the only drummer in Reno and Tahoe allowed to play a drum solo in the casinos. "They had signs up in the dressing rooms that said, 'No drum solos' because the guys got on stage and tried to play like Buddy Rich as they would bang their solos out on the snare drums or on the metal drum rims and the gamblers would complain to the pit bosses. But me being the rebel and screw up I am, I decided I was going to do a drum solo. So I jumped up on the drums and started playing a drum solo, but I started playing the Gene Krupa method, using the floor tom and the rack tom-toms. The people at the blackjack tables were snapping their fingers and taping their feet, because they were getting into the hypnotic rhythms of Gene Krupa, the rhythms that I copied from him."

Of course, it was on the day that Leo Fender handed Dale his new creation, the Stratocaster Electric Guitar that the music world changed forever. Dale, a south paw, took the guitar and played the right hand guitar upside down and backwards. Unlike Jimi Hendrix who also played a right hand guitar upside, Dale never reversed the strings. He played the strings as they were strung, transposing chords in his head, sometimes playing over the top of the guitar neck rather than underneath. It created a sound never heard before.

Dale described Fender as, "Like a father figure to me," and his collaboration with the King of the Surf Guitar would lead to other seminal changes in rock music. After blowing up a series of Fender amps Dale recounted, "Leo came down to see me play at the Rendezvous Ballroom. I was playing to 4,000 people at a time and the audience would absorb the sound of the guitar and make it sound thin. Once Leo heard this he said, 'Now I see what Dick is trying to do. Okay, back to the drawing board.' And it was because of those concerts that Leo came out with the first 85 watt amplifier. Then we went to 100 watts and then when I wanted to put in two speakers we created the D-130s. That is why Dick Dale in the music industry is called the 'Father of Loud.'"

Legendary guitar maker Leo Fender.

It can be argued that Dale is not only the King of the Surf Guitar and the creator of surf rock, but he is also the creator of heavy metal rock. As he himself noted, "Les Paul may have invented the electric guitar, but Dick Dale put the electricity in the electric guitar."

The concert at The Talkhouse is a pure example of prodigy begetting prodigy. After a recent battle which a re-occurrence of cancer, Dale is healthy and hitting the road again, not only with his full band, but in duo acoustic performances with his 17-year-old son Jimmy Dale, a virtuoso in his own right with own band, FCC (Forever Came Calling). It was the father and son guitar combination that brought the house down in Amagansett.

Early on in Jimmy's career he would sit in on drums with his father, but he, like Dick, was a natural musician and soon the two were playing guitars note for note together. Dick explained, "It started when I would be playing on stage with my full band and I'd be playing something like "Nitro" and I would get the crowd into it, playing the staccato notes and then I would take my hands off the guitar but the guitar would still be playing and Jimmy would walk on to the stage. Then we'd go through the rest of the show kibitzing back and forth on guitars."

Dick Dale prefers guitars made from a single wood.

As each musician fronts their own band, with Jimmy's band sometimes opening up for Dick's, they included the third combination of duo performances. "So now Jimmy and I play electric acoustic guitars on specially designed acoustic guitars we created with Fender that are only three inches wide. We play everything from Johnny Cash to Deep Purple's "Smoke and Water" to "Amazing Grace," which we always dedicate to the troops." And, of course, many Dick Dale classics like "Miserlou."

Dale elaborated on their signature three inch guitars, "I have been screaming at the guitar companies to build a certain type of acoustic guitar for 20 years, but they just wouldn't do it. They think the bigger the body the larger, the deeper the sound. The draw back is when you are sitting playing a six inch wide guitar you get a Charlie-horse in your back and after 15 minutes you don't want to play anymore."

The reason the guitars that width would not work in the past is because the guitar manufacturers would use two or three different types of woods that would compete molecularly with each other. Dick's signature three-quarter sized "Dick Dale Malibu" and Jimmy's signature full size "Kingman" are made from single woods, mahogany. Both have internal duel picks up inside and dual pick guards along with build in digital tuners. According to Dale, "Oh, what a beautiful sound comes out of these guitars. People can't believe it when they hear them."

Believe it they did at The Stephen Talkhouse as the King of the Surf Guitar churned it up with his son Jimmy. Dick Dale is still playing, still innovating and still changing the face of rock music, while passing his gift along to another generation.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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