Sunday, August 16, 2015

Witnessing the King of the Surf Guitar

I've seen a lot of live music in my life, but I can't say I've seen many "living legends". Tonight I had the chance to see Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar. He may not be a household name, but if you like surf guitar music--and I really, really like surf guitar music--then you know Dale is the man who started it all. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a man who created an entire genre of music.

Usually when I got to see a band, it's a few dude and dudettes, generally in their 20s, 30s, or maybe 40s, playing their hearts out (if you're lucky). And that's great! But Dick Dale was a lot more than that...
  • He's your grandpa, but way more talented. Dale does the same thing a lot of 78-year-old men do. He told stories and rambled a bit. He complained about health issues. When was the last time you heard a musician complain about his kidneys at a rock show? But hey, it was pretty cool to hear some new banter for once.
  • He's a Bostonian! I had no idea before tonight that he grew up in Quincy. Of course he made his name in California, but Dale was clearly feeding on the home-town energy tonight.
  • He's a slice of history. Not a lot of musicians can tell stories of hanging with Leo Fender, inventing record breaking guitar amps and making the Fender Stratocaster the legendary instrument that it is today. Dale is the guy who originally took guitar volume to 11.
  • He's a got an incredibly patient back-up band. The bass player and drummer were clearly less than half of Dale's age, but they were a perfect fit. When you're 78, I guess you're entitled to stop songs whenever to tell a story, forget which songs you've already played, or switch songs entirely halfway through if the first one is tiring you out. Though they occasionally shot each other a bemused look, they stuck to the star's pace no matter how much it fluctuated.
  • And to be clear, Dick Dale was and is above all a rock star. He may not play quite as fast as he did at his peak, but c'mon! His peak was over 50 years ago! Dick Dale still plays the guitar like no one I've ever heard. He was still able to channel the energy of a very enthusiastic crowd (which was comprised of 20-somethings, septuagenarians, and every age in between) into an unforgettable performance. 
 Live music nearly always makes me happy, but as Dick Dale wrapped up his set with a surf guitar version of "Amazing Grace" segueing into his signature "Misirlou", I experienced a euphoria that I've only been able to grasp at a handful of shows over the past few decades of going to shows. I got just a glimpse of what those young surfers in Balboa, California witnessed back in the summer of '61. And if a geriatric Dick Dale could make a middle-aged me feel like I did tonight,'s no wonder he was able to father a whole new genre of music back in the day.

I'll be honest. Part of me went to this show tonight just so I could say I saw a "legend". I didn't really have high hopes that the show would actually be good. Shame on me. I now pay fealty to the King of the Surf Guitar not out of a blind sense of loyalty to formerly great ruler, but because he's still great, and still making his fans swing their hips (even if some of those hips are now artificial).

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