How Dick Dale Changed The Sound Of The Rock Guitar

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In a 60-year career, Dick Dale hasn’t cracked once Billboard‘s Top 40. He is also not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And if you look in any of the old school classic record guides, the ones published by Rolling stone in the 70s and 80s Dave Marsh was focused on singles The heart of rock and soul, and more, you will find that its name is not there either. Each absence reflects a collective bias against rock ‘n’ roll of the early 1960s, an era often described in history books as the dead zone between Elvis and the Beatles. Even the “King of the Surf Guitar”, the title Dale gave himself via his LP of the same name from 1963, carries an air of contempt: Dick Dale can rule, but only over a kingdom that was little more than ‘a lasting novelty a few years under the JFK administration.

Dale’s music evokes a specific time and place, anchored in the popular subconscious. This is one of the reasons Quentin Tarantino chose Dale’s “Miserlou”, a 1962 adaptation of a traditional Middle Eastern song, for the soundtrack of the opening credits of his masterpiece. from 1994, pulp Fiction. The song’s cavernous reverberation and pounding rhythm immediately sets the California coast dreaming, but there is another crucial element involved: the sound is visceral, as violent as a pistol shot, drawing the attention of the first pick of Dale scratching his fingerboard. “Miserlou” is aimed directly at the guts, but the secret to its success – and the reason Dale’s music endures – is how it blends muscle and mind, connecting at the gut level while expanding horizons. sound.

Think about the very sound of Dick Dale’s guitar, how it rumbles and booms, mimicking the sound of rising and crashing water. It was a deliberate move on his part. The guitarist was also a surfer and he wanted his music to capture the experience of surfing the waves. Dale argued that the key to surf rock is in the rhythm, how it mimics the rush of water. He cited jazz drummer Gene Krupa as his main influence, and indeed you can hear how that manifested in Dale’s frantic picking. He preferred an explosion of noise to catchy riffs, an approach so far ahead of its time that early ’60s guitar technology couldn’t stand it.

Fortunately, Southern California was also the home of Leo Fender, an electric guitar pioneer. Fender introduced the Stratocaster in 1954 and its solid body construction was popularized by Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens soon after, but it was Dale who really pushed the limits of the Strat, let alone the amplification of Fender. . Leo Fender heard the story of Dale’s tumultuous concerts at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Orange County, where the guitarist continually pushed his amps to destruction in search of a choking sound that emphasized the serious. Quite quickly, Fender worked with the guitarist to develop one of the first “stacked” guitar amps, where the amplifier housing rested on the cabinet; Leo named the Showman after Dick’s skills as a performer.


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