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Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar, dies aged 81

Dick Dale © Getty

American musician Dick Dale, the self-professed King of the Surf Guitar, has died aged 81.

The surf rock pioneer passed away on Saturday night (16th March), his bassist Sam Bolle confirmed to the Guardian.

Born Richard Anthony Monsour in Boston, Massachusetts in May 1937, Dale is best known for his 1962 cover of the Greek folk song ‘Misirlou’, which brought together rock and Middle Eastern influences. His instrumental music was influenced by his Lebanese heritage.

More than decades on from its original release, ‘Misirlou’ reached a new wave of music fans when Quentin Tarantino used it at the start of his 1994 movie Pulp Fiction.


Cited as a huge inspiration to musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Ry Cooder and Scott Gorham, despite his legendary status, Dale fell on hard times in recent years due to the cost of his medical fees.  

In an interview with Vice Magazine in in 2012, the then 75-year-old Dale explained why he was still performing against the advice of doctors while battling cancer and diabetes.

"They say I should never be on stage, I shouldn't be playing," he said: "My medical bill is over $3,000 a month to buy supplies I have to get for my body."

Dale’s friend and former bandmate, drummer Dusty Watson, wrote on Facebook, “The legend and king of surf guitar has passed. Condolences to family and friends and all those who were touched by your undeniable presence. Rest In Peace friend.”

Paying tribute, Joe Bonamassa hailed Dick Dale as a “true original”, “(an) American icon and a gentleman of the highest order.”

Queen’s Brian May said “we all owe you” and added “I wish I’d met him. But truly we all benefit from his trailblazing.”

Dick Dale is survived by his wife Lana and son Jimmie.

You can read some of the tributes from across the rock world below:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

RIP Dick Dale - Father of the Surf Guitar. We all owe you. Rock on. 💥💥💥 Look how his guitar is strung ! He’s left handed, but plays essentially a right handed guitar - except for the controls and ‘horns’. So his heavy bass-end strings are at the lower edge of the fretboard. This means his fingers could never fall in the same shapes as the rest of us. Maybe this led him to use those low notes more often and more forcefully than everyone around him. But his highly distinctive sound comes from his very fast up-and down action in the picking hand (sometimes confusingly referred to as ‘tremolo’, in reference to the similar-sounding traditional Flamenco Spanish guitar technique, which is actually done in a very different way, with multiple fingernails). And a lot of echo effect. And thick strings. And a lot of energy !!! Check out his early hit ‘Miserlou’. Wild !!! I wish I’d met him. But truly we all benefit from his trailblazing. Bri

A post shared by Brian Harold May (@brianmayforreal) on

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