At 74, the legendary Dick Dale keeps riding those surf guitar waves
DD When I was a kid back in Boston. I'm self-taught. Never took a lesson. Piano being my favorite. And I always played trumpet, sax, accordions, and harmonicas — you name it! I was just inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville. That's the real deal, that's where you're voted upon by over a hundred thousand players, musicians.
SFBG And how'd that feel? It must've been exciting.
DD That was the real thing! That other [rock history museum], that's just governed by a dozen people around a table. I really never paid attention to any of these though really, I've always been a rebel in the business. The big agencies and recording companies, they don't like me, haven't liked me since I was a beginner in this business because I knew what they were doing when they had these kids sign — they were taking away all their royalties. I tell the kids now, don't sign with a big company, the minute you sign, you sign over your rights.
SFBG Do you meet a lot of younger bands? Do you see your influence on their music?
DD Yeah, they all open up for me. It's been going on and on though. I found Jimi Hendrix when he was playing bass for Little Richard in a bar in Pasadena for 20 people. Stevie Ray Vaughan, his first records he learned on were Dick Dale records. I'm the guy who created the first power amplifiers with Leo Fender. In fact, I just got through doing one of the songs on the album for Glen Campbell's last album. Glen played backup guitar in my recording sessions back at Capitol [in the 1960s].
SFBG Do you ever think about releasing new material?
DD My son, Jimmy [who's 19], he matches me note to note, but I also taught him drums like Gene Krupa. Jimmy and I, we do dueling guitars. We just created two new guitars. Jimmy has one called the Jimmy Dale Signature Kingman guitar, and I have the Dick Dale Signature Malibu guitar. And my guitar is about three-quarters size so you can put it in a car and play it. It's something I've been screaming about for 20 years, nobody would listen. Finally Fender wanted to me to do something and I said I won't do it unless you make this guitar.
On acoustic guitars it's usually six-to-eight inches deep to make a big sound, but they don't realize its unnatural for the average human to put their arm over the top of the guitar and start strumming, you get a cramp in your back, the older you get, the quicker that comes. I've always said 'why can't I just drop my arm straight down?' Instead of eight inches deep, make it three inches. They all said 'you're not going to get the sound.'
When you have molecules for mahogany, they're a certain shape, you strike a note with a string, it'll go 'BING!' The note wants to travel like a tsunami wave, a continuation, so it travels through the back, up the side, but when it goes to the top base with a different wood, it's like somebody changed the recipe for your soup. You're going to hear the string, but you'll never hear the color of the sound, the pureness, undisturbed.
I tried to explain that to them using one wood so it'll be all the same molecules. I convinced them to do that, they made that guitar then I had them put on two pick guards, one on top, so you save the face of the guitar, then I had them put on a tuner. Then I had them strum it and those techs, their jaws just dropped. I said, 'see? The world is no longer flat, fellas.'
The last tour we did, was only just Jimmy and I doing dueling guitars. We sat in two chairs like the Smothers Brothers, picking on each other, father and son. Now we're doing the tour with my band, and now he's doing drums for me.
SFBG I saw that you were inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach.