Richard Anthony Monsour – known professionally as Dick Dale – was the first real surfer to actually make surf music, attempting to recreate the experience of riding the waves through a choppy playing style and breakneck pace.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 4 May 1937, Dick was of Lebanese/Polish descent. He learned to play the piano and trumpet as a child, eventually moving on to the guitar. He learned to surf at the age of 17.
Dale’s performances at surfer dances at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California, in 1961 are credited with the creation of the surf music phenomenon. The events he arranged at the ballroom – called “stomps” – quickly became legendary, and the events routinely sold out.
His recording of Let’s Go Trippin’ is acknowledged as one of the first surf rock songs, which he followed with Jungle Fever and Surf Beat on his own Deltone label. His first full-length album was Surfers’ Choice in 1962 and he soon began appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, and in films where he played his signature single Miserlou.
His second album was named after his performing nickname, King of the Surf Guitar.
Dick and his band, The Del-Tones, performed in the 1963 movie, Beach Party, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello and Muscle Beach Party in 1964. When the surf hits dried up, Dale released two hot rod-themed albums, Checkered Flag and Mr Eliminator, gamely smearing himself in engine oil to reposition himself.
Dale developed colorectal cancer and though he recovered, he retired from music for several years. In 1979, he almost lost a leg after a pollution-related infection of a mild swimming injury.
The use of Miserlou in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction gained Dick a new audience. He said that he was forced to keep touring to the end of his life, because of his inability to afford his medical costs (he had many health issues, including diabetes, kidney failure, and vertebrae damage that made performing excruciatingly painful).
Dick Dale died in Loma Linda, California on 16 March 2019, at the age of 81.