As reported by Pitchfork and confirmed by his bassist to The Guardian, singer-songwriter and legendary surf rock guitarist Dick Dale has died. A cause of death was not given, but Dale suffered from multiple health problems for years—including rectal cancer, kidney failure, and diabetes. Despite his medical issues, Dale continued to tour right up until his death and had committed to ongoing tour plans for the rest of 2019. Dale was 81.
Born Richard Monsour in Boston in 1937, Dale played trumpet as a kid but learned how to play ukulele and guitar after becoming a fan of Hank Williams. He taught himself how to play, adopting Middle Eastern techniques that he picked up from the his Lebanese family on his father’s side, later incorporating that with some eastern-European influences from his mother. He also learned how to play the tarabaki from his uncle, which involved creating a pulsing beat that he replicated with his rapid guitar picking technique.
In the ‘50s, the Monsour family moved to California and Dale eventually picked up surfing. Combined with his various influences, Dale later tried to develop a guitar sound that would simulate the feeling he got from being in the water, with the end result being the “wet”-feeling, reverb-heavy sound that came to be known as surf guitar—a genre that Dale is credited with inventing. Pitchfork notes that he also worked directly with Leo Fender to create the first 100-watt amplifier, which was an important development for Dale, since he had a bad habit of blowing out weaker amps by playing at “excessively high volumes.”
Dale’s most iconic contribution to the world of music is his version of “Misirlou,” a traditional song from the Middle East that Dale put his surf rock spin on, turning it into a hit here in the States. Even for those who don’t know surf rock, Dale’s “Misirlou” is famous for its appearance in the opening titles of “Pulp Fiction.”