Dick Dale’s Legend Lives On Via Stories From the Past

Forever trippin’ (Stock photo/design by Michael Ziobrowski)

Surf-music lovers will always revere Dick Dale as the King of Surf Music. To the band mates and musicians who were with him in the beginning, the waves of memories left by his passing carry the portrait of a true Orange County treasure. Here are a few of their stories.

Dale’s longtime drummer

Bait-and-Switch Back Beat: “I’d barely turned 17 when Dick was playing at Harmony Park in late 1965. I used to go watch him every Friday night and bug him to sit in, and he [would say], ‘Sorry, we have a set to do, and I don’t really [need] anybody to sit in. You’re kinda young anyway.’ I came back every week and kept bugging him. So finally, my brother Chip, during one of their set breaks, called their drummer over and said, ‘Hey, man, you want a couple of uppers so you can get wired and keep up with Dick?’ and he says, ‘Sure.’ But they weren’t actually uppers; they were downers. Halfway through the set, [the drummer] started dragging, and he fell right into his drum kit, and Dick turned around and looked at his band and said, ‘Damn, I need a new drummer right now!’ So they all looked at me and said, ‘Can you sit in?’ And I stepped in and knew all the songs. He didn’t hire me right away; he gave [the other drummer] another few weeks, and then called me up.”

Deadly Drums: “He was a hard-driving rock & roller; he wouldn’t take anything but perfection. . . . After the first couple of times I played with him at Harmony Park, he came back to me [between songs] and told me to hit my drums harder, so after our break, we came back, and I hit the drums harder . . . but he said, ‘On the next song, I want you to pound those drums into the fucking floor!’ So I turned my sticks upside down and started slamming ’em, and during the song, he turned around from the front of the stage and said, ‘That’s it!’ I thought, ‘Man, I’m gonna get killed in this band. This guy’s crazy!’”

Split Personality: “He wasn’t a huge partier; he was a bit of a loner. He liked to stay home and watch TV; eat popcorn, ice cream and pizza; and hang out. He didn’t do drugs; he didn’t drink. When he stepped offstage, he turned into Richard Monsour. He wasn’t crazy about performing. We were getting ready to go on at Harmony Park, and Dick goes, ‘Man, I wish I was at home right now, watching TV.’ His keyboard player at the time, Billy Barber, would get on him and say, ‘You get up there right now and give these people the best show they’ve ever had!’ And Dick would just laugh at him and go, ‘All right, Billy, okay.’ Once he got up there, it was like a switch turned on and suddenly he became Dick Dale.”

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Surf-rock legend who founded the Bel-Airs, creator of the song “Mr. Moto”

Surf Music’s First Wave: “My first time hearing his name was at Torrance Beach, and some of the surfers down there were asking, ‘Hey, are we gonna go down to the Rendezvous and see Dick Dale this weekend?’ They were talking about it like it was some kind of ritual. I said, ‘Who’s Dick Dale?’ . . . This was right as my band was looking for ways to get out there and play ourselves, right as the surf craze was hitting. I remember we went to see Dick and were impressed with his performance and thought, ‘I wonder if we could get a little part of this for ourselves.’

“We staged our first dance for the South Bay crowd at the Knights of Columbus at the Hollywood Riviera, with a capacity of about 300. We handed out fliers around the beach, and bang! We filled the place, and we had three dances. We were remembering our visit to see Dick [and how] he had much more of a crowd in a bigger hall. But I remember the high point of that evening was that after we played, we took a break, and one of the local surfers came up to me and said, ‘Wow, man, your music sounds just like it feels to be out on a wave-you oughta call it surf music.’ This was the true birth of surf music, when the surfers themselves laid claim to it. I don’t believe Dick or I had a conscious purpose of setting out to create a music to go with surfing.”

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Dale’s bassist/lap-steel guitarist

Highlights of Hi-Tone Records: “A guy from the San Francisco Chronicle saw one of our shows, and his friend had a label called Hi-Tone Records in the early ’90s, and we were signed within a week. We went up [to San Francisco] and recorded at Brilliant Studios and did a magical album called Tribal Thunder. Everything changed at that point. [The label] decided to put us out on the road. We were getting way younger people in the crowd. . . . We were building a crowd in and bowling over Europe. [Dale] was a god in Germany and Amsterdam. . . . We even played with Prince in Amsterdam on the same bill. It just escalated. That’s when I started to see it was all young people. We were blazing at that point.”

Misirlou” in the Movies: “We were playing at a venue in New York, circa 1993, and Dick’s then-wife Jill [Monsour] comes up to me before the show with a handwritten note and asks me, ‘Do you know who this is?’ The note said, ‘This is Quentin Tarantino. I’d like to come backstage and meet Dick.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know who that is,’ and then she tore up the note. Later, I came back to LA, and I went to see [Tarantino’s film] Pulp Fiction and heard the song ‘Misirlou’ in the opening credits. I was sitting in the fourth row, and I just got up and started screaming, ‘Oh, my God!’ I called Dick and said, ‘“Misirlou” is in a movie!’ I don’t know if it was because of a licensing deal that they didn’t tell me about or if they really didn’t know, but our lives changed for five years after that. I don’t even know if Dick ever met Quentin, but Quentin said in later interviews that he wrote two major parts of the Pulp Fiction script while he was listening to ‘Misirlou.’”

The Ghost of Jimi: “There’s a legend that Jimi Hendrix used to come see Dick play at Harmony Park. [According to Dale’s original bass player,] Jimi came a couple of times to watch him. Right before we did the Peel Sessions [on BBC Radio 1 in 2000], I told him, ‘Ya know, Jimi Hendrix has a song called ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ where he says, ‘You’ll never hear surf music again’-because Dick had cancer. [Dale was diagnosed with rectal cancer in the ’60s.] So we did [a cover] version of the song, and Dick said something funny in the recording, like, ‘Jimi, I’m still here.’ It was kind of his way of answering Hendrix. . . . Afterward, me and the drummer were crying when [show host John] Peel told us that Hendrix recorded [‘Third Stone From the Sun’] where we did. We were just blown away.”

One Reply to “Dick Dale’s Legend Lives On Via Stories From the Past”

  1. My old boss, Dick Dale passed away recently. Dick gave me my first big break in the music business in 1973 and I worked with him in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Hawaii and then all over the United States. This was the phase when Dick had a show band with his wife Jeannie so my experience was different than some of the other writers. I wrote a song for him in 1974 after we got back from working in Hawaii. We rehearsed it, but never played it in public. I finally got around to recording it last year and I teamed up with Anthony a surfer, musician and OC videographer and Teddy an international surfer and photographer extraordinaire to make a video. I wanted to present it to Dick as a thank you. Anthony called me Sunday to tell me the video was finished, but Dick left on Saturday. 45 years in the working and 24 hours too late, the unintended consequences of procrastination! Don’t wait too long to say thank you. Because I lost the opportunity to thank him personally, I am making it my goal to thank him by sharing this with as many people as possible. Feel free to leave positive comments and memories.
    Balance & Harmony,
    You Tube video Link:

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