Rock 'n' Roll Legend Dick Dale on the Origins of Surf Guitar Music

By Elizabeth Deane

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July 17, 2012

Although we're in the midst of summer, we’ll try not to get sand in the massive hinges of the WGBH vault as we open up a terrific interview from the 1995 PBS series “Rock & Roll.” It’ll take you back to the early days of surf music, that massive guitar-driven sound that reverberates all the way down through heavy metal, and the unforgettable theme under the opening credits of Quentin Tarantino’s film "Pulp Fiction." The Beach Boys may have surpassed this artist in popularity, but he alone bears the title "King of the Surf Guitar."

This Month's From the Vault: An interview with Dick Dale

Three selected clips from the original WGBH interview with Dick Dale for the award-winning series "Rock & Roll."

dale and elsa
You’ll see immediately that Dick Dale isn’t anywhere near the surf in this interview. He’s in the California desert, where he raised lions and tigers. (Really.) But he has his custom Fender in hand throughout the discussion, and some of his demos take you straight to the beach, as he shows in one clip how the sounds of surfing influenced his music. Watch also for the moment when he talks about drummer Gene Krupa’s influence on his technique, and his demonstration of the way the sound of his lions turns up in his music as well.

In the last clip, Dale talks about the origin of his legendary version of the song "Misirlou." Bostonians might be surprised to learn where he first heard the tune that would become the theme song for "Pulp Fiction."

You can find the entire uncut interview with Dale on Open Vault, the website of the WGBH archives. For guitar aficionados, you’ll find there a tour of his guitar and the story of the development of the Showman amplifier, designs he perfected with legendary guitar maker Leo Fender.

Finally, near the end of the full interview, let Dick Dale take you back to his days as a surfing god and guitar hero in Southern California:

There was times I’d get out of the water … and everybody’s inside, like at the Huntington Beach Pavilion … and I’d come running up the stairs with my surfboard, still in my trunks … [I’d get] behind the stage, towel off, put on a T-shirt and I still had my trunks on. I’d be in my bare feet and I’d be playing my guitar on stage.

Today Dale, now 75 and a cancer survivor, is still on stage playing. He’s been touring since April and will be performing this week in Massachusetts.

Listen to Dick Dale talk about growing up in Quincy and his annual visit to Mass. on 89.7 WGBH Radio's Morning Edition.

Dick Dale's Massachusetts Tour Dates

Wednesday, July 18
The Beachcomber
Wellfleet, MA

Thursday, July 19
The Middle East
Cambridge, MA



Elizabeth Deane was the creator and executive producer of the 10-part, Peabody Award–winning series “Rock & Roll.” She says about the experience, "Like many viewers, I brought a general knowledge of rock history to the project, but it’s interviews like this one, produced by Dan McCabe and Vicky Bippart, that deepened our treatment of the music and set the series apart from other rock histories. We focused on the innovators, like Dick Dale — the people who changed the music — not only artists but also producers, songwriters, studio engineers and session musicians. The series premiere in 1995 was a big event for WGBH and our partners at the BBC, who produced five of the shows; we’re proud to have this opportunity to show off this rock 'n' roll gem from the archives."

The licensing rights to the epic 10-part series (1995) have lapsed; however, WGBH Archives has a small grant from the Grammy Foundation to preserve the uncut interviews for the five programs produced by WGBH.

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About Inside the WGBH Open Vault

Open Vault is the WGBH Media Library and Archives (MLA) website of unique and historically important content produced by WGBH's public television and radio stations. It provides online access to video, audio, images, searchable transcripts, and resource management tools —available for individual and classroom learning. Learn more: openvault.wgbh.org.

About the Author
Elizabeth Deane
Elizabeth Deane is a longtime producer and writer for WGBH Boston.

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