Guitarist Dick Dale, known for his iconic surf-rock sound and songs like genre standout “Misirlou,” died on Saturday evening at the age of 81. Drummer and Dale’s former collaborator Dusty Watson confirmed the musician’s passing to NPR, though no cause of death has been released.
Long before he became the King of the Surf Guitar at the forefront of a new genre, Dale was born Richard Anthony Monsour in Boston in 1937. Taking Middle Eastern scales (gleaned from his Lebanese heritage through his father) and combining them with the feel of the ocean from his love of surfing (a hobby adopted after moving to California in 1954) and plenty of reverb, Dale’s style launched the surf-guitar sound in the early-’60s. His 1961 single “Let’s Go Trippin'” is considered the first instrumental tune of the burgeoning surf genre, and the following year, he released his debut album with the Del-Tones, Surfer’s Choice.
Dale had dealt with a number of health issues in his decades-long career, like diabetes and kidney issues, along with a cancer diagnosis in the ’60s. The guitarist, who counted inventor and legendary luthier Leo Fender among his friends, was also involved in environmental conservation efforts and was known for keeping and caring for endangered animals like lions and tigers. Dale’s career saw a resurgence of popularity when “Misirlou” was used in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction, and the guitarist continued to perform live until recently.
Musicians have shared a number of remembrances and tributes to Dale since the news of his passing broke. The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, a contemporary of Dale’s and fellow surf-scene icon, writes, “Dick’s guitar playing was a big influence on all of us,” noting that his band covered Dale’s version of ‘Misirlou’ on their Surfin’ USA album in 1963. “Rest In Peace, Dick Dale,” guitarist Joe Bonamassa writes. “True original, So Cal Surf, American icon and a gentlemen [sic] of the highest order.” Jack White offered his own tribute on Instagram, remembering, “I spent many moments learning his massive reverbed guitar licks in my bedroom, and still enjoy playing his song ‘Nitro’ whenever I can… A unique innovator of the guitar with pick melting style and swagger for miles. I can remember traveling up to Pontiac from Detroit by myself to watch him play when I was sixteen. That upside down gold sparkle Fender of his needs to be hung up some place special.”