Dick Dale, whose songs “Miserlou” and “Let’s Go Trippin'” defined the surf rock genre and led to him being dubbed “The King of Surf Guitar,” has died. He was 81. His bass player Sam Bolle confirmed the news to the U.K. paper The Guardian.
Born Richard Anthony Monsour in 1937, Dale, of Lebanese heritage, developed his distinctive sound by combining the scales of Middle Eastern music with reverb and rapid alternative picking. When he moved to Southern California as a teenager, he became obsessed with surfing and combined his two loves. He and his band the Del-Tones released “Let’s Go Trippin‘,” considered to be the first surf rock song, in 1961.
In 1962, Dale released “Miserlou,” his version of a traditional Eastern Mediterranean song. The pioneering song was later used to great effect as the opening music in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction.
According to Rolling Stone, the Fender guitar company also recruited Dale to test its instruments and amps, leading to many improvements. His signature gold Fender Strat, known as “The Beast,” was custom-made for him by Leo Fender himself.
Among those who cited Dale as a major influence: Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughn, the later of whom teamed up with Dale to record a new version of “Pipeline” by The Chantays. It received a Grammy nomination in 1987.
In 2015, in an interview with Pittsburgh City Paper that went viral, Dale claimed, “I can’t stop touring because I will die” due to his many medical expenses. He battled rectal cancer, as well as diabetes and renal failure.
While he had health insurance, he said it didn’t cover “the medical supplies I need to stay alive,” which he said cost $3,000 a month.
Dale later told Billboard that he would rather not tour, but added, “But I’ve also got to realize I’ve been kept alive for a reason.”
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