When it can withstand the barrage of punishment from Dick Dale, then it is fit for the human consumption

Monday, March 18th, 2019

The King of Surf Guitar just passed away. I saw him play back in the mid-90s, and it was literally painfully loud in the small club. I had been to plenty of loud concerts, and I couldn’t take it:

Dale was born Richard Anthony Monsour in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 4, 1937. He was of Lebanese descent from his father and Polish-Belarusian descent from his mother. His family subsequently moved to Quincy, Massachusetts. He learned the piano when he was nine after listening to his aunt playing it. He was given a trumpet in seventh grade, and later acquired a ukulele (for $6 part exchange) after becoming influenced by Hank Williams. The first song he played on the ukulele was “Tennessee Waltz”. He was also influenced musically by his uncle, who taught him how to play the tarabaki and could play the oud.

Dale then bought a guitar from a friend for $8, paying him back on installments. He then learned to play the instrument, using a combination of styles incorporating both lead and rhythm styles, so that the guitar filled the place of drums. His early tarabaki drumming later influenced his guitar playing, particularly his rapid alternate picking technique. Dale referred to this as “the pulsation”, noting all instruments he played derived from the tarabaki. He was raised in Quincy until he completed the eleventh grade at Quincy High School in 1954, when his father, a machinist, took a job working for Hughes Aircraft Company in the Southern California aerospace industry. The family moved to El Segundo, California. Dale spent his senior year at and graduated from Washington Senior High School. He learned to surf at the age of 17. He retained a strong interest in Arabic music, which later played a major role in his development of surf rock music.

Dale began playing in local country bars where he met Texas Tiny, who gave him the name “Dick Dale” because he thought it was a good name for a country singer.

Dale is credited as one of the first electric guitarists to employ non-Western scales in his playing. He regularly used reverb which became a trademark of surf guitar. Being left-handed, Dale tried to play a a right-handed guitar, but then changed to a left handed model. However, he did so without restringing the guitar, leading him to effectively play the guitar upside-down, often playing by reaching over the fretboard rather than wrapping his fingers up from underneath. He partnered with Leo Fender to test new equipment, later saying “When it can withstand the barrage of punishment from Dick Dale, then it is fit for the human consumption.” His combination of loud amplifiers and heavy gauge strings led him to be called the “Father of Heavy Metal”. After blowing up several Fender amplifiers, Leo Fender and Freddie Tavares saw Dale play at the Rendezvous Ballroom, Balboa, California and identified the problem with creating a sound louder than the audience screaming. The pair visited the James B. Lansing loudspeaker company and ask for a custom 15-inch loudspeaker, which became the JBL D130F model, and was known as the Single Showman Amp. Dale’s combination of a Fender Stratocaster and Fender Showman Amp allowed him to attain significantly louder volume levels unobtainable by then-conventional equipment.


  1. Faze says:

    I can’t tell you how many of my favorite artists (Jeff Beck, They Might Be Giants, Kingbees, for example) I’ve walked out on because of the ear-splitting volume – sometimes more than once (Dave Edmunds). Where did this craziness come from?

    Now, it’s very possible a guy of Dick Dale’s age in the 1990s might have been very deaf, and might not be aware that he cranking’ it at 11.

    Saw Marty Stuart with the McGuinn and Hillman from Byrds last year – they played it just right: nobody ran out to the rest room to get toilet paper to stuff in their ears.

  2. Harry Jones says:

    Up to a certain point, music sounds better louder. Beyond that point, not so much. There is an ideal volume level.

    Tolerance for loudness is influenced by: alcohol consumption and hearing loss. Drunk people are loud. Hard-of-hearing people are loud. They don’t know they’re loud, and you can’t inform them. It’s a lack of external self awareness, and a kind of willful obliviousness.

    If the club is too loud for you, a couple of drinks will help you cope. So will earplugs. But there ain’t nobody going to turn the volume down for you.

    Choose your battles.

  3. Brent Curtis says:

    Why would They Might Be Giants go super loud? We’re not exactly banging our heads to Ana Ng.

    The loudest I heard was a Jimmy Barnes concert in Australia (the Working Class Man guy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erSJGrpfnOI).

    I knew the old boy bass player (long family story) and got in via the band list even though I was 17 and broke. The first guitar hit then nothing. People were moving their mouths with no sound coming out. The band were playing their instruments but nothing. It was so loud it was like a loud silence (“roaring silence” isn’t an oxymoron after all). When all frequencies are up to 11 you can’t discern anything. It was comic.

    I spoke to my friend after the concert and complained about the ridiculous volume and he said “You should try it onstage.” Of course he wore earplugs but they are a weak line of defense against assault rock.

    The aftermath was interesting. Of course my ears were ringing the day after. But they were also ringing the morning of the next day too. I’ll blame that concert when my hearing starts to go.

  4. Brent Curtis says:

    The dude from Air Supply played his guitar left-handed but strung for a right-hander. It isn’t very common.

    Also Maoris in NZ often use their thumb on chords in guitar playing whether lefties or righties.

  5. Lu An Li says:

    Misirlou. Greek folk song. Dick did a good rendition. Going to listen to it now.

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