Dick Dale’s Tours de Force : High-Energy Guitarist’s Route to Spread His Music, Views Includes O.C. Stop
Dick Dale’s transformation from nearly forgotten relic to hot item is one of the great comeback stories in rock ‘n’ roll.
Over the past three years, the release of Dale’s first albums of new material since the mid-1960s helped propel the surf-guitar godfather around the nation and the globe--the first significant touring of his career.
In 1994, Dale got a big boost from the hit film “Pulp Fiction,” which used his 1962 classic “Miserlou” as its opening-credits theme and as the keynote song on a soundtrack album that has sold 2 1/2 million copies in the United States, according to the SoundScan monitoring service.
Now--with the just-released “Calling Up Spirits” and a new record company, the London-based Beggar’s Banquet, that is geared toward the young, alternative-rock audience--Dale, at 59, is continuing what he considers a never-ending march to spread his music and his views, and to secure his family’s future.
But being in demand has its price. As anyone who has seen one of his torrential performances can attest, Dale is a man of vast energy. But he sounded almost depleted over the phone on a recent afternoon as he spoke from his desert ranch in Twentynine Palms, near Joshua Tree National Monument.
“I got in at 5 this morning from London. I just squeezed in three weeks of interviews in 11 days,” Dale said, alluding to his overseas promotional itinerary. On his first day home, he had hosted a camera crew from CNN and was working his way through a long lineup of telephone interviews with newspaper writers.
“I’m going to lay down and die afterward,” Dale said.
But not for long: After a weekend’s rest, he was scheduled to head out on yet another U.S. tour. Dale travels in a motor home so he won’t be separated from his wife, Jill, and their 4-year-old son, Jimmy.
There are no plans for a letup, said Dale, who perfected his sound playing local seaside ballrooms in the early 1960s, becoming the first significant rocker to emerge from Orange County.
“I take every minute and second as if I’m going to be dead the next minute. When I started out [on the comeback], I had a goal: ‘I gotta get out there; I got to figure out how to pay for the ranch.’ So I decided to go on the road, and the more I went on the road, the more it cost me, but the more you give, the more you receive. I’m dedicated to touring the rest of my life.”
Among the gifts touring has brought, Dale counts the applause of huge festival audiences in Europe, the thanks of Native American and Australian aboriginal fans who have responded to the tribal themes running through his recent records and a growing, but still primarily club-level, following in the United States.
“Pulp Fiction,” he said, was a windfall of exposure but not of cash because Dale is not “Miserlou’s” composer (writing credits being the most lucrative source of soundtrack royalties).
“Tribal Thunder” has sold 51,000 copies since its 1993 release, and “Unknown Territory,” the 1994 follow-up, has sold 46,000 copies, according to SoundScan.
Now, Dale is bidding to widen his scope. He’ll get a chance in July when he plays four dates on the Warped Tour, a traveling festival that has grown up around the close links between punk rock and the surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding culture. Dale will be on the tour’s local date, July 6 at the Olympic Velodrome at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He also headlines June 22 at the Taste of Orange County festival.
On the Warped Tour, Dale will play to fans of Pennywise, NOFX and Rocket From the Crypt, among others, and anyone who has seen his raging, power-trio performances wouldn’t bet against him winning them over.
“There is obviously a big generational gap, but he’s the same genre as these [younger surf-punk] bands are,” said Darryl Eaton, booker for the Warped Tour. “I’m a fan [of Dale’s], and I thought it would be cool to expose him to this group of young kids.
“The bands are going to think it’s great too--young punk [musicians] who are guitarists, I would think have to be enamored with his level of expertise and the mystique he brings to the whole thing.”
Dale says his mission nowadays isn’t just to bowl over fans with his trademark skidding runs and dramatic guitar roars, but also to spread awareness of the plight of the degraded environment and downtrodden indigenous peoples.
“I’m being like a Johnny Appleseed, bringing the grass-roots people closer and closer,” said Dale, whose own ethnic roots are in Lebanon and Poland. “I refuse to bring my son up in a world corrupt as it is now.”
Dale’s sociopolitical concerns spill out in “Window,” a folk song on “Calling Up Spirits” that’s far from his usual aggressive guitar mode.
Elsewhere on the album, he covers Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” and creates new, amped-up sonic contexts for some of his ‘60s nuggets, including “The Wedge” (redone as “The Wedge Paradiso” in honor of an Amsterdam concert hall where he got a raucous reception) and “The Pit” (which takes the oldie “Night Rider” in a punkish direction).
“I’m going to [update] all my old songs,” Dale said, citing deep dissatisfaction with the recorded sound of the originals. He credits Allen Suddeth, recording engineer for his three comeback albums, with helping him “capture the way I sound.”
Four of Dale’s oldies, plus one track from “Tribal Thunder,” appear on a new surf-music compilation from Rhino Records, the four-CD “Cowabunga! The Surf Box.”
“I didn’t want my old stuff coming out, but they’re good guys, and they told me all these collectors want to hear the old things the way they sounded years ago, even though they sounded like [expletive],” Dale said. “Dick Dale is what’s happening now, a whole brand-new thing.”
* Dick Dale plays June 22 on the main stage at Taste of Orange County, at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. 8 p.m. $8 event admission. (714) 808-9420, ext. 9420. Dale also plays July 6 on Warped Tour ‘96, a seven-hour festival at the Olympic Velodrome, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Avalon Boulevard and Victoria Street, Carson. $15. (714) 740-2000.
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