THE MADNESS THAT IS DICK DALE!
Caught Dick Dale’s show Saturday night at the Canyon Club in Agoura, California. I was blown away. Even at 72, Dale is still the undisputed King of the Surf Guitar. Playing a flipped right-handed electric guitar with extra heavy gauge strings left-handed (basically playing the guitar upside down and backward), Dale’s fingers moved so fast there was practically smoke coming off the frets.
Dale not only played his own original licks and riffs (filled with his trademark tremolo picking), but took the licks of everyone from Link Ray to Stevie Ray Vaughn, put them through the mix of his own musical madness and defiantly spat them out as if laughing at them while asking, “is that all you got?”
Demanding the guilt or credit for originating everything from reverb to backfeed to exploding amps, Dale straddled his guitar while running its strings back and forth across the edge of an amp – and somehow made it musical. Flowing from guitar to drums to harmonica to trumpet and more – playing them all strictly by ear and with consummate skill – Dale proved he is a musical savant and still a force with which to be reckoned.
Dale’s much younger backing musicians – a drummer and a bass guitarist introduced only as Ryan and Sammy respectively – were equally impressive. Dale follows no set routine in his ninety minute set, moving from one song to another on a whim, sometimes in the middle, sometimes somewhere else, or simply riffing at will, causing both drummer and bass guitarist to react on a moment’s notice. There were times when Dale would flash a chord progression or demand a specific drum beat as if he were flashing gang signs, but his guys were right there with him in a loose, but flawless performance.
Aside from traditional highlights, like Misirlou with all its Middle Eastern influences (Dale is often credited as one of the first electric guitarists to employ non-Western scales in his playing), The evening was capped by the most unusual arrangements of Peggy Lee’s Fever and the hymn Amazing Grace.
While courageously battling cancer, Dale claims he’ll keep playing as long as fans keep coming to hear him. For my part, I’ll keep coming to hear him as long as he keeps playing.