That has to be one of the most familiar tunes in popular music. Used, lifted, interpreted by many an artist. And it’s not the only one. Take this for instance.
Yet too few have heard of the man who created it. (No, much as the hordes might believe, it was not created by The Black Eyed Peas). Dick Dale’s importance in the world of modern guitaring and music is two-fold – the sound he created and the technical advancements he helped pushed for to handle that sound. He developed a distinct, blazingly fast, single-note staccato style of playing the guitar that he made his own. Being a left-hander, the dearth of guitars suited to his orientation got him started playing a right-hand guitar upside down. Even after he shifted to a left-handed guitar, he kept the string arrangement reversed. Reminds you of someone who came along a few years later? No wonder Jimi Hendrix looked up to Dick Dale and they became good friends. His experiments with reverb and a driving desire to create a specific sound got him working with the legendary Leo Fender. Many busted amps and speakers later, Fender in conjunction with James Lansing at JBL created a system that roared out the sound that Dale wanted the world to hear.
When you hear ‘Miserlou’ (which is Turkish – spelt differently – for Egyptian. Yup, go figure!) and ‘Riders In The Sky’ and his fierce rendition of the Jewish traditional ‘Hava Nagila’ (this is one of at least 2 versions by Dale), you understand why there was so much excitement when he burst on the scene and why many have traced heavy metal back to the Dick Dale guitar sound and the work he did with amplification. There will be the usual idiots who will have a problem with ‘Hava Nagila’. That’s ironic because Dale didn’t allow religious denominations get in the way of his music – see, he was part Lebanese.
Linking in from my previous post on Link Wray, Dale and Wray shared a connection apart from their pioneering guitar work. Both battled severe medical conditions. Wray lost one of his lungs to pneumonia and had to cut down his singing, which pushed him to focus on the guitar. Dale was prey to cancer in 1966 and was not given much of a chance. He stepped back from music and thankfully, recovered. And then to make the link stronger, there’s his spitfire, snarling version of Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’ on his 1993 comeback album ‘Tribal Thunder’. Two legends, bound together.
This and the related post on Link Wray are a small dedication to my young friend Geeth Vaz (very appropriately, the word ‘Geeth’ means song). He’s one of quite a few who tried to teach me to play the guitar but he was the only one who figured out what would work for me. That I have not done much with it reflects only my laziness. To Geeth – teacher, brilliant guitarist and overall great guy.
Thanks for writing about Dick Dale. I knew his playing but didn’t know much about him.
I’m glad you like this. Both he and Link Wray ought to be better known than they are.
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