Dick Dale, who became known as “king of the surf guitar” with a twangy rapid-fire, reverb-heavy sound that he said recreated what he heard in his head while riding the waves, has died at 81, his former bass player Sam Bolle told Reuters.
Dale, whose work included the 1962 hit “Misirlou” that was featured in the film “Pulp Fiction,” died on Saturday night.
Dale’s music was one of the dominant sounds of Southern California’s car-and-beach culture in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. He was widely considered the creator of instrumental surf music and an influence on scores of noted bands and guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix, the Beach Boys and Eddie Van Halen.
The popularity of surf music faded in the United States with the advent of rock’s “British Invasion” but Dale would have a career revival that started in the 1990s.
Despite health problems that plagued him during every show, he was still performing in 2019, often with his son, guitarist-drummer Jimmy Dale.
He often said he kept performing because he wanted to “die onstage with an explosion of body parts.” But Dale also told interviewers he was on the road because he needed to earn $3,000 a month to pay medical expenses not covered by insurance after bouts with cancer, diabetes and back problems. He said he also liked to inspire people who might be having a tough time.
Dale said his fans from the beach gave him the title “king of the surf guitar” and his powerful breakneck-picking style was considered by many to be a forerunner of heavy metal music.
Hits by Dale and his band, the Del-Tones, included “Let’s Go Trippin’” and “Mr. Eliminator” and he was best known for “Misirlou,” a buzzing, fast-paced reworking of a folk song traced back to Greece and the Middle East.
Director Quentin Tarantino used “Misirlou” to set the pace and build tension early in “Pulp Fiction” and the song also popped up in other movies, television commercials and video games.