Chances are you know legendary surf guitarist Dick Dale from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Maybe you even heard the same track (it's called "Miserlou") sampled on the Black Eyed Peas' album Monkey Business, or spotted Dale on Jesse James' Monster Garage.Yet the glory of Discovery Channel cameos and being included on Tarantino's iPod must seem trivial to a guy who, decades ago, hired the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones as opening acts, performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and appeared in a Marilyn Monroe movie.
The fact that Dick Dale still tours is as impressive as it is unknown. Even Jimi Hendrix believed Dale, born Richard Monsour in 1937, would never play again after being diagnosed with rectal cancer, and thus penned the lyrics "You'll never hear surf music again." In 1961, Hendrix had seen Dale perform at Balboa's Rendezvous Ballroom, where Dale and backing band the Del-Tones put on nightly "stomps," dances that drew thousands, before the building burned down a few years later. Famously left-handed, he started out on a small plastic ukulele earned by cashing in Pepsi bottles and soon developed a uniquely percussive guitar technique, breaking strings, shredding picks and literally setting on fire the same custom amps he designed with friend Leo Fender.
But while Fender was busy revolutionizing musical instruments, Dale sought to change the shape of contemporary music itself, which seemed to limit itself to jazz and country. In Orange County, getting permission to perform what parent-teacher associations called "devil music" wasn't easy. For his first show at the Rendezvous, Dick Dale played to 17 barefoot surfers wearing mandatory neckties. As the crowds grew, the city made him construct 13 fire exits.
Although his cancer and a 1979 leg injury forced an early retirement, Dick Dale has made a remarkable comeback that continues with Graceland Mafia and the Marauders at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Sat., 8 p.m. $35.
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