Weapons of sound

Dick Dale (Richard Anthony Monsour), guitarist, born 4 May 1937, died 16 March 2019. The Guardian covered this variously:

Alexis Petridis brings in a Frankensteinian note by explaining of Dale that “he wanted to die onstage ‘in an explosion of body parts’. It would have been a fitting end for a man who worked out, before anyone else, that the electric guitar wasn’t merely a musical instrument, more a weapon of visceral power.”

Laura Snapes, in the same vein, recounts his quotation that “So I blew up over 50 amplifiers. And that’s why they call me the Father of Heavy Metal.” And she gives the interesting detail, “Dale once claimed that Frank Sinatra had offered to manage him, but he turned him down because the singer wanted a 90% cut of his earnings.”

Garth Cartwright’s actual obit notes, “ In 1954, Monsour’s father took a job as a machinist at the Hughes Aircraft Company in California. […]

“By the early 60s, Dale was performing at dances for teenage surfers, filling the Rendezvous ballroom, on the Balboa peninsula, with more than 3,000 people every weekend. These concerts attracted the interest of the guitar manufacturer Leo Fender because Dale complained that he kept blowing up amplifiers.

“Dale and Fender visited the James B Lansing loudspeaker company and worked with them to create a 15-inch amplifier that allowed for volume levels never before achieved. “When it [an amplifier] can withstand the barrage of punishment from Dick Dale, then it is fit for human consumption,” said Fender. Dale’s Fender Stratocaster guitar and Fender Showman amplifier combined to create a template for heavy rock.

“With the success of his recording career, Dale invested in a mansion on the Balboa peninsula, where he kept pet tigers.”

We have to turn, as so often, to The Surfer, to get the words from the tiger’s mouth. Here are my top two exchanges from an i/v with Dick Dale from 19th May 2010:

Q: I’ve read that you have never used alcohol or drugs, which certainly defies the public’s perception of surfer stereotypes.

A: Like I give a shit what they think. Everyone has their opinions and everyone would say to me, “I can’t believe you went through the whole hippy scene and all that stuff without taking drugs.” Alright, I smoked cigarettes, and then I quit smoking when I couldn’t talk properly anymore and my lungs filled up and they sounded like a fucking ocean.


Q: You were stamped with the title, King of Surf Guitar. What do you think “surf music” is?

A: Well, what it is, is the meaning of the sounds of the waves – like the echo and the sounds of the tube when my finger would be in the wall and I could hear it go, “Chhhhhhhhhhh!” And I’d take my strings and go, “Weeeeeeer!” And then you get that rumble just before you’re going to be flung over – you know – right before you’re going to go over the fucking falls and get slammed down. That rumbling and all that stuff like that they associated the heavy Dick Dale staccato picking tk-tk-tk-tk-tkt on those strings – it sounded like the barrel of a goddamn wave.