In this concluding installment of surf guitar legend Dick Dale's monologue, he talks about bar owners, Quentin Tarantino, the music business, and where his sound comes from.
Today Dick Dale concludes his 65-minute monologue in a crustier mood. He has been talking non-stop for 45 minutes, and his attention turns first to unprepared journalists who don’t read the four emails of stories about Dale sent my his wife Lana. They’re not links to stories; they contain stories that have been cut and pasted into the email—stories with no obvious sources, and one with a byline that is only initials. They’re soft on the facts and details of Dale’s career, long on some of the ground he has covered in this “interview,” particularly his relationship with Lana. Some of the stories that he tells and lines that he uses while talking to me show up in these emailed stories as well.
It's easy to read some of this concluding section as bitter, but the odds are good that much of the anger comes from experience. Some of points of pride seem a little inflated, but for someone who made his mark in the early '60s, it's easy to imagine decades where "Dick Dale" was the answer to a trivia question, not a headliner. He has enjoyed a late career renaissance, but it doesn't take much effort to envision years where tangible signs that he was still in the music business were hard to come by.
Dale works himself up a bit about venues that call him or Lana with questions because, he says, the answers are all in the rider attached to his contract. “Every answer for every question you could possibly dream of to ask,” he starts. “There isn’t a question you couldn’t ask that is not answered in that contract rider, and yet they’ll call back. We say, ‘Did you read that?’
“‘Oh no. We’ve been so busy.”
“There are people who are professional like we are--for instance like the MIM Museum [Musical Instruments Museum], the largest museum in the country of music. They’ve got a big Dick Dale thing in there, it’s kind of neat. The MIM museum we’ve been there three of four times—i forget I don’t keep track. Lana does all that] and I just live for the moment if I can speak, or eat, or see, or whatever then I’m thankful. So the point is, we sold that out three months in advance every time we go there in Phoenix, Arizona. But now--do you want to hear something funny? A few miles away we played a venue that holds about three to four hundred people and they’re not sold out. They’re never sold out, and the guy goes. Well I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I know it all. Oh really? Well let me tell you something. I’ve built five night clubs, two of the largest in Southern California, one up by Disneyland. I used to hire all the actors coming in from Vegas. I’ve built them from the ground up. I lived in them, I’ve ate in them, I’ve slept in them, and I’ve showered in them, and I lost $100,000 in one week by advertising the wrong way, using the wrong words, and guess what? When I finally learned, I learned and I got the wisdom. Now if you do what I ask ya--I’ve taught Lana right from scratch everything, and she’s got a brain that is so articulated it’s incredible. She leaves no stone unturned.
Oh let me do my job. Oh really? Don’t blame me if it’s not sold out because I never seen anybody walk away from Dick Dale saying he did a shitty job. We broke all records again with the people of Las Vegas, over 30,000 people of all ages.
You don’t call Dick Dale “King of the Surf Guitar” because I don’t play what they call “surf music.” The Beach Boys did, and they used to open for me for $10. I play sounds from a guitar that I created from Gene Krupa. His drums. He got the rhythms from the indigenous tribes that I’ve studied that he did. How they counted onetwothreefour onetwothreefour onetwothreefour onetwothreefour on the one--one two three four, one two three four. They played on the one, where musicians play on the one-and, so that’s the reason why he was so powerful in his drumming and drew such crowds. Everybody tapped their feet, and they tapped them on the one and, I’ve proven this when I used to play 20 years in Vegas, Reno, and Tahoe. I’d go to the audience and I’d say, This is what musicians try to pull over on you. Now watch me folks. I’m going sing a song, and you’re going to follow me. Are you ready? And I go like this [clapping on the two and the four]
Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
On the game people play now
Now they’re still clapping and the guys are busy playing on the guitar. Now watch what happens when they stop to clap the way they want to clap, it will go like this:
Oh the games people play now, every night and every day now [his clapping changes]
Did you ever see that? That’s the way they do it! They stomp their foot--one two three four—that’s the natural God’s gift, and if you go back to a symphonic orchestra, you’ll see a man standing on a podium with a baton going one two three four one two three four. He’s doing it! Every indigenous tribe or aborigine—I did a song with a didgeridoo about their people. They brought their children to me, they brought me their paintings, they said I was part of them. And when I got through playing last time in Viva Las Vegas, the wife and I sat at a table after I did the concert and broke all records for people waiting in line for five and a half hours for me to sign.
My sound came from Gene Krupa, and then it came from me imitating my lions and tigers calling for me when I would come home. A mountain lion would go Waaaaaaaoww! And then I would do that on the string. My African Lion would go *Roars* like that and I would imitate that on my string. I would sound like my hawks and eagles. I would make sounds like them on my guitar like a pterodactyl bird. And of course I surfed from sun up to sundown, so the surfers came into this barroom that held 4,000 people on opening night on a big old wooden floor on springs where every band in the world performed, and they called me, You’re the king, man. You’re the King of the Surf Guitar.
That limits the audience if you use that in advertising, and we’ve proven that over and over again. When Quentin Tarantino came to me and said, Dick, I’ve been listening to you forever and ever and ever and I get how you play and I want to use that and create a masterpiece of a movie to compliment the masterpiece of you playing ‘Misirlou.’ I make movies differently, backwards. I don’t make a movie and put music to it; I go and lock myself in the closet and play a song over and over and over and it makes me see a movie, and that’s what I want to do.
He was humble about it at the time, and I said, Go for it, man, and he did. And look what happened. He became the President of Cannes Film Festival and the movie came in the Top 10 Action Movies in the Smithsonian Institute. He finally got the last laugh. I don’t like what he did with our police force, though. We’ve got to support all our police force, all our firefighters. I was in the Air Force with the crash crew. I used to pull guys out of burning planes before they became crispy critters, and that’s one of the reasons I got decorated, and all the firefighters that go into the forest and all the troops that are giving up their lives and coming home without limbs—no one’s takiing care of them, and all of this stuff is dedicated to them. Every single night I play “Amazing Grace” on my guitar, and I recorded that down at Sun Studios In Memphis, so that’s going to be available for people to buy on the web when we finally get that done.
We’re really dragging our butts because we’re so far behind in everything, mainly with our medical in the condition that we’re in. The doctors are saying, Don’t get on the stage. You’re gonna kill yourself because you’re going to get more fistulas in your body, and that happened. When I strain, I get a hole inside me and I start to bleed out of my rectum and because the tube is cut [an inconveniently timed dog bark] going into the rectum. It goes into my stoma into a bag, but the rectum will still bleed, and then you get an infection because you can’t urinate all the urine out. You think you have it all out, but a lot of it stays there and that becomes infected. They call it a UTI. That’s what I’m fighting, and I have one right now as we speak and I’ve been in pain for the last four days beyond belief. But I’m trying to make myself stronger to be able to do this tour, and we’re going to be leaving shortly.
So there’s so much more to it all then just, Hey what do you do? Do you play guitar? It’s not that. I don’t like musicians; I always say that. I don’t like entertainers because they don’t give—well, there are some who are out there who have gained and turned their life around, people like Charlie Daniels. When I got inducted into the International Musicians Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum--now that’s the real deal. You have to be voted upon by over 100,000 members of your peers, producers and conductors.
There are all of these messages that you got to get out to these kids. That’s why the major booking companies won’t have anything to do with me. I did the Warped Tour in California, and their agents came and saw me playing to these young kids and they go, Oh we have to have Dick Dale. That guy is dynamite. Man, he’s crazy. Then he goes to his bosses and the bosses says, Stay away from Dick Dale. He knows too much. And I don’t care, you know? I don’t care what I do. When they give me an award, I give a speech. I have received more awards than any entertainer in the business in my lifetime, so you know that’s what they don’t like. I spill the beans. I tell the kids, Don’t sign contracts with them. You’re going to sign your life away. You’re going to sign away your royalties. You’re going to sign away your ownership of your music. Make your own song and put it on your own CD and sell it where you play. Forget about riding in the big fancy buses that they’re charging you money for. And they give you what they call ‘tour support’ which you have to pay back. Do it on your own. People like Eddy Arnold, that country singer, he started all that on his own.
So that’s why I’m there. As long as I’m alive, to try to give some wisdom.”