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Dick Dale (1937 - 2019), "King of the Surf Guitar"

David Livingston/Getty Images for NAMM

His hit song "Misirlou" defined surf rock and was unforgettable in "Pulp Fiction"

Dick Dale was the "King of the Surf Guitar," known for songs including 1962's "Misirlou," which gained him a new generation of fans when it was featured in Quentin Tarantino's 1994 film "Pulp Fiction." Born Richard Monsour, the Lebanese-American Dale created the surf rock scene as he played to roaring crowds so big and loud that he reportedly worked with legendary guitar builder Leo Fender to design a new style of loudspeaker just for him to be able to be heard over his fans. Dale's other hit songs include "Let's Go Trippin" (1961), considered to be the first surf-rock instrumental and the catalyst for the surf-rock craze, as well as "The Scavenger" (1963) and "Glory Wave" (1964).

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Died: March 16, 2019 (Who else died on March 16?)

Details of death: Died at a Southern California hospital of heart failure at the age of 81.


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Dale's signature sound: Dale's guitar sound was unmistakable, a hard-driving percussive sound that he said tore up both his strings and his picks. But it was more than his sound that was unique. Dale held his guitar like no one else – fellow players were sure to notice that in his hands, the guitar was upside down, with his fingers often hitting the frets from above rather than from underneath. The unusual choice stemmed back to when the left-handed Dale, learning to play, first picked up a right-handed guitar. Rather than restringing it and holding it in the traditional way, he turned it upside down and created a legendary sound.

Dale on playing a legendary song: “I still remember the first night we played it ('Misirlou'). I changed the tempo, and just started cranking on that mother. And… it was eerie. The people came rising up off the floor, and they were chanting and stomping. I guess that was the beginning of the surfer's stomp.” —1981 interview in the Los Angeles Times

Remembered by the music world: “I'm sorry to hear about Dick Dale passing. Dick's guitar playing was a big influence on all of us, and we covered 'Misirlou' on our Surfin' USA album in '63. Love & Mercy to Dick's family.” —Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys

“RIP Dick Dale. Father of the Surf Guitar. We all owe you. Rock on. … I wish I'd met him. But truly we all benefit from his trailblazing.” —Brian May of Queen

“R.I.P. Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar. I was lucky enough to see him play once. He broke a high E string, and made a point of saying, 'That was a .16, not one of those candy-ass .10s.' #all hail” —Mike Mills of R.E.M.


Watch Dick Dale and others who performed in the Beach Party movies.


Full obituary: Los Angeles Times

Related lives:

  • Link Wray (1929 - 2005), Powerful guitarist known for "Rumble"
  • Les Paul (1915 - 2009), Electric guitar pioneer
  • Gene Krupa (1909 - 1973), Jazz drummer whose music had a formative influence on Dale