Interview: Dick Dale
Fri, 06 Mar 2009 14:30:25
Most artists are lucky to have any kind of legacy. Few become legends, and even fewer create genres. Dick Dale has got quite a legacy and the invention of at least one genre to his credit. Plus, his classic instrumental "Miserlou" will forever be known to Generation-X as the "Pulp Fiction theme." This music industry maverick is the father of "Surf Rock," and he's parented it well. He shared that fatherly wisdom Thursday, March 5, at Guitar Center in Fountain Valley, as part of Guitar Center Sessions. While kicking back on his yacht, Dick caught up with ARTISTdirect.com in this exclusive interview about Guitar Center Sessions and much more.
Have you had a long relationship with Guitar Center?
Guitar Center is a special place for me. I remember opening up the second store. I used to play across the street at the first location when it was just a hole in the wall in Costa Mesa, CA. That was back in the '50s. I bought my first piano from them. It was a cherry wood piano, which I still have. I gave it to my mom and dad. They've passed on now, but my dad made their home into a Dick Dale museum [Laughs]. Piano is my favorite instrument. I can create on a piano, and it's a very emotional instrument. Glen Campbell and I used to sit in the Guitar Center next to Pink's Drugs on Newport Blvd and jam. Glen played backup on my albums when I was on Capitol. That brings back many memories.
What was the idea behind the Guitar Center sessions?
I've always been involved with the store, so this is a way for me to give back. Guitar Center always helped me when I wanted to help kids get started in music. These kids didn't really have the funds to play, so I would call up Guitar Center and they would give them a really nice discount. I've got my handprints in the concrete at the Hollywood location at the RockWalk. They asked me where I wanted my handprints. I looked down, and right at the center was Leo Fender. They had all of these other players all around, but there was one space to the right of Leo Fender. It was strange that it was always kept open. Leo was like a father to me. We were like the three musketeers—Leo Fender, Freddie Tavares and myself. My son, Jimmy, was a baby, and he stuck his thumbprint in the same square [Laughs].
So would you say Guitar Center has a philanthropic mentality?
Guitar Center is so important because the people in there don't act like their shit doesn't stink when customers approach them. They always greet you with a smile. As long as the people at Guitar Center are that way, I'll always support them. I've been noted as the rebel in the business for years because I don't believe in having kids sign these contracts where they sign their lives and royalties away with all of the other bullshit the labels do. I teach them how to record their music and sell it at their own gigs. The kids can own everything if they're smart. You can share through music.
Does your rebel mentality extend to your sobriety?
I've never had a drug in my body in my entire life. I've never had alcohol in my body. I don't smoke cigarettes. I haven't eaten red meat in 40 years. Me, I'm kind of a hard ass guy. I'm from Boston, Massachusetts. I was born there. Usually if someone screws with me, I say, "Hey Vinnie, get the bat!" [Laughs]
“I don't know scales—I just know pain and pleasure.”
Do you enjoy sharing your knowledge at events like the Guitar Center Sessions?
Yeah, I do very much. I've been performing across the United States, and we play to 500,000 people when we go to Europe. I deal with a lot of children who have cancer. Their families get to see me when I do my tours. I've been doing these tours for the last ten years, and I've become very close with the families. I talk to them all the time. I make the kids aware of their parents. Parents think their kids are five-years-old forever. When kids reach 18, they think they're too big to hug anymore. Bullcrap! I tell kids to give their parents a hug and say how much they love their parents for everything they've done. I get all of these emails from parents saying, "Jesus, Dick, my son and I hadn't talked for about ten years, and we sat and had coffee for five hours." You can help and guide the younger minds. I'm doing this thing at Guitar Center, and it's going to be bitchin'.
What's the best medicine?
When I talk to these kids that are four or five-years-old with cancer, they ask me, "What did you do with your cancer?" I say, "Go make somebody laugh. When you see the doctor, make him laugh. Make the nurses laugh. Make everybody laugh and smile. You'll forget about what you have in your body and tell your body it doesn't belong there." Laughter is the greatest healer in the world. Keep busy and do things for others. If you do that, you'll forget about what you've got. They gave me three months to live when I was 19 years of age. I got into martial arts, and I've been in all forms of karate all my life. I'd go on 30-day fasts, putting hot tea, honey and ginseng in my body. Look at me, I'm 71 and I'm doing 39 concerts in 42 days.
You've really persevered through a lot.
When I was taking chemotherapy and radiation at 8:30 morning, at nine o'clock I was playing to 8,000 people at the Anaheim Convention Center. I rode the train of pain, and look at me, I'm going to be playing. I'm singing high notes. I'm belting out "House of the Rising Sun" and playing Deep Purple's "Smoke On the Water." I'm really playing from my guts. I was able to play with Brian Wilson, an old buddy. My dad used to give him 10 bucks to open for me!
What was your involvement with Disney?
I did the music for Space Mountain. When I finished the music for Space Mountain, there were a couple kids standing there. One kid said, "Man, it will be a bummer when Dick Dale dies because nobody plays guitar like that." His friend said, "Yeah, but wherever he goes, he's going to raise the dead." Some of the Imagineering team heard that and they said, "Let's create a ring for Dick Dale." They made a skull with a headband, and they put cross guitars instead of cross bones under the skull. They gave me that ring. That became my logo, and it's on the tail of my airplanes.
How was growing up in Boston?
I was born in South Boston and raised in Quincy Massachusetts. I went to elementary school, junior high and high school there. I spent summers with my grandfather in Whitman, MA. I loved quarries, and I used to go to the Quincy quarries and swim in that beautiful blue water. They had me give a talk at the historical presidential building that they just built. It was all-granite. When I walked in, there was president John Adams on the wall, Jon Quincy Adams and Dick Dale was in the middle [Laughs]. My life story is in the congressional hall of records, it's a wonder the government hasn't whacked me with the way I talk about it [Laughs].
Congressman Jerry Lewis, who was a surfer also, had the members of the cabinet and speakers of the house vote upon my life story and put it in the congressional hall of records in the White House for all-time. Other people want to get in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Shit, I'm in the White House, you can't get any better than that [Laughs]. If the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn't pay the rent, they'll shut the building down. The White House is always going to be there no matter who's in the damn thing! It's been great. When I die, it's not going to be in a damn rockin' chair with a beer gut, it's going to be on stage in one big explosion of body parts [Laughs].
Is there anything that still inspires you?
Life's happenings inspire me. A musician is a musician, you can be a musician all your life, but learn to be an entertainer. When you can entertain with your instrument, then you can perform until you drop dead and people will continue to see you perform. I entertain when I'm on stage, and that's why I play all of these different instruments. I don't know scales—I just know pain and pleasure.