It goes without saying - but we'll say it anyway - the best guitarists are those that have a distinctive sound. From Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore to Jimi Hendrix and Joe Satriani. There's Link Wray to Brian May and Keith Richards to BB King. The musicians that claim a technique all their own are those that make the most indelible impression. So, include Dick Dale in that elite category; his signature surf style helped initiate a genre all its own, one that still resonates over half a century later. No wonder then that he's known as The King of the Surf Guitar, a title that befits his iconic status.
Born Richard Anthony Monsour on May 4, 1937, Dale translated his love of surfing into a sound that reflected the flash and fury of his favorite sport. He was also one of the first to incorporate the use of reverb and a staccato sound that gave surf guitar its distinctive timbre. What's more, he played it loud, thanks to his use of the first ever 100-watt amplifier and a special loudspeaker created to accommodate his demand for excessive volume. That in iteself set the standard for every over-the-top guitar player that followed.
Dale initiated his surf sound in 1961 at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa California, and the trend quickly spread, forcing the need for bigger venues and increased supervision by the authorities. The sessions became known as "stomps," and the infectious energy had a mesmerizing effect on audiences and other musicians alike.
Early hits like "Let's Go Trippin'," "Jungle Fever," and "Surf Beat" helped make his music a local sensation, but when his first album, 1962's Surfers' Choice, was picked up by Capitol Records, Dale became a national phenomenon. His hit "Misirlou" and sophomore album King of the Surf Guitar helped consolidate his fame until he was usurped by the '60s British Invasion and a bout with rectal cancer slowed his surge. Temporary retirement and a severe leg injury kept him out of the limelight, but a Grammy-nominated album in the mid '80s, a 1987 appearance in the movie Back to the Beach and Quentin Tarentino's use of his song "Misirlou" in the film Pulp Fiction facilitated a late life comeback.
Other efforts followed, as well. In 1995, Dale recorded a surf-rock version of the classical offering "Aquarium" as musical accompaniment for Disneyland's Space Mountain. Two years later, he appeared in the cult film An American Vampire Story, performing a rousing guitar solo during a beach bash scene. In 2002, he played several songs for a holiday special entitled "The True Meaning of Christmas."
Dale was recognized in other ways as well. The National Hockey League's Colorado Avalanche used Dale's song "Scalped" as their theme song. The Black Eyed Peas' "Pump It" samples "Misirlou." The song is also featured in the PlayStation 2/Xbox 360 video game, "Guitar Hero II," as well as the Wii video game "Rayman Raving Rabbids." The feature film Space Jam also uses "Misirlou" in a scene featuring Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam taking aim at their adversaries.
More importantly though, Dale inspired a sound emulated by many acts that followed. Here are just a few:
The best-selling instrumental band of all time, their virtuosity and unique use of innovative effects also made them one of the most influential acts of all time. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, they're best remembered for their song "Walk, Don't Run."
Their signature song "Wipe Out," with its ricochet lead guitar and manic drum solos, became a definitive surf anthem, eventually climbing to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1963 and then to number sixteen when it reentered the charts in October 1966. The group scored two later hits with "Surfer Joe" and "Point Panic."
An early and influential '60s surf rock band from Southern California, the Bel-Airs were best known for their hit "Mr. Moto," an effusive instrumental that featured a flamenco-sounding intro and a melodic piano interlude. The song's theme was later used in the solo for the song "Seed" by Sublime.
Formed from the ashes of the aforementioned Bel-Airs, the Challengers boasted the biggest selling surf album of all time with their debut effort aptly entitled Surfbeat. They consistently claimed that Dick Dale was their initial influence.
Founded in 1961 by five high school buddies, the Chantays ensured their immortality with their hit "Pipeline," which not only peaked at number four on Billboard's Hot 100 in May 1963, but also became one of the most covered songs in pop history, reaping revisits from such varied artists as Lawrence Welk (!), The Ventures, Agent Orange, Hank Marvin, Anthrax, Bad Manner, Johnny Thunders, and Dick Dale himself.
After reaching number four in 1963 with their recording of "Surfin' Bird" -- a combination of two R&B hits by The Rivingtons, "The Bird's the Word" and "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" -- the song found success in a series of remakes by the Ramones, The Cramps, Silverchair, Pee-Wee Herman, and the thrash metal band Sodom.
It's also been a popular pick for several soundtracks, including Full Metal Jacket, John Waters' Pink Flamingos, an episode of Family Guy and the video game "Battlefield Vietnam." Interestingly enough, during Christmas 2010, a Facebook campaign was launched to get the song to number one in the U.K. to protest against the takeover of the number one spot by a winner from The X Factor. The effort nearly succeeded; the track debuted in the UK Top Ten for the first time on December 19, coming in at number three.
A group from South Bend, Indiana, they scored their greatest hit in 1964 with "California Sun," which reached number five on the U.S. charts. In fact, the song became one of the final American rock and roll songs to hit the Billboard Hot 100 prior to the start of the "British Invasion," reaching its peak position the same week as The Beatles topped the chart with "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
An Australian early '60s surf rock band, they were best known for the hit, "Bombora." Prior to delving heavily into the garage band genre. The first Australian rock band to write their own hits, they reformed in 2000 with three of the original members, and they're still performing and recording today.