Dick Dale released his first hit single, “Let’s Go Trippin,’ ” in 1961. Nobody could have imagined then how long and strange a trip it would be.
Dale, born Richard Monsour, grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Southern California during his senior year of high school. He spent the late ‘50s in Orange County launching a new musical style: surf rock. The idea was to re-create in sound the experience of riding a wave, and Dale accomplished it with a wildly dramatic guitar approach combining fast, nimble, staccato picking with noisy wails and reverberating screeches and echoes that sounded like underwater explosions. Anyone interested in the roots of hard rock and heavy metal guitar heroism shouldn’t overlook Dale’s contribution.
As he forged that new style of playing, Dale was also primarily responsible for developing Orange County’s first indigenous rock scene. By 1959, he was packing Balboa’s Rendezvous Ballroom with a new generation of music fans.
Surf music’s run as a national pop phenomenon lasted long enough to produce memorable hits by such Dale-influenced bands as the Surfaris and the Chantays, but by 1964 the wave had passed. For Dale, though, interesting times--as the old Chinese curse has it--were just beginning.
He became a wild animal trainer, a martial arts expert and a pilot. He earned a fortune in real estate during the ‘70s and lost it in the ‘80s, along with the mansion he had bought overlooking Balboa’s famous surfing zone, the Wedge. Dale survived a cancer operation in 1966, and overcame severe burns to his body and hands suffered in a kitchen accident in 1984. In ’83 and ’84, Dale was tried twice on charges of sexually molesting a 13-year-old girl. He was acquitted on 10 counts, and two others were dropped after both juries failed to reach a unanimous verdict.
In the past few years, the focus for Dale has come around to music once more. In 1988, he received a Grammy nomination for an instrumental duet with Stevie Ray Vaughan on the surf-rock classic “Pipeline.” About two years ago, Dale stripped down his Deltones band from a 12-piece show ensemble to a trio with bassist Ron Eglit and drummer Steve Aschoff. That format has played to Dale’s strength: a raw, elemental power and an almost gladiatorial presence and intensity that blow away any hint that his shows might be mere exercises in nostalgia.
The allure of Dale’s surf-guitar style hasn’t been lost on a younger generation of rockers. Surf music has been a key influence on the Pixies, one of the most acclaimed alternative rock bands of the past few years. Recently, another alternative rock contender, the Bay Area band Psychefunkapus, called on Dale to blaze away as guest guitarist on its song “Surfin’ on Jupiter.”
“They treated me like I was a god. They were just so sincere,” Dale said over the phone recently from his home in Twentynine Palms (Dale, 54, lives there with his wife, Jill, and their newborn son, James Wayne Monsour--Dale’s first child). Dale said he acted last month in a forthcoming video for the song, for which he was required, in addition to playing guitar, to paint himself to resemble an Apache Indian and hold a potbellied pig.
Another new development is the release of “Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, Greatest Hits 1961-1976,” a 21-track compilation on GNP Crescendo Records. It nicely complements the 1989 Rhino Records CD retrospective, “The Best of Dick Dale & His Del-Tones.” The GNP Crescendo disc includes 12 songs not on the Rhino compilation. Of the nine overlapping titles, seven are later, 1975-vintage reworkings of early ‘60s material featured on the Rhino album.
The jewel of the new release is “Del-Tone Rock,” a 1961 track previously available only as the B-side of the “Let’s Go Trippin’ ” single. It isn’t pure surf music, but a hot-rocking R&B-flavored; workout that ends with a wondrous Chuck Berry-inspired guitar solo. Recorded a year before the Rolling Stones were formed, Dale’s playing on the track anticipates everything that’s great about Keith Richards’ signature guitar style, and forecasts the T-Rex sound to boot.
Who: Dick Dale and the Deltones.
When: Friday, Jan. 31, at 9 p.m., with the Surf Addicts and Trip the Spring.
Where: The Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.
Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to the San Juan Creek Road exit. Left onto Camino Capistrano. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Plaza.
Where to call: (714) 496-8930.