"I Don't Play No Wussy Strings"
Tarantino's other favorite guitarist
The King of the Surf Guitar hangs ten at Wetlands

Words and Pics by Steve Sparkes

In the fifties this kid from California picked up the then brand new Fender Stratocaster left handed and changed the way the guitar would sound forever... and his name was not Jimi Hendrix!

Born in Boston on May 4th 1937 Dick Dale started his life about as far away from the surf that was to make him famous as you can get. He moved to California with his family, picked up a guitar and had his first hit in 1955 with "Jesse Pearl", He built a following based in the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balbao CA.. He surfed night and day (unlike most of the Beach Boys) and was hailed as the King of the Surf Guitar by his fellow surfers long before surfing was heard of outside Hawaii and California.

He met Leo Fender who was developing the Stratocaster who handed him one of the prototypes along with an amplifier and broke out with peals of laughter as Dick picked up the guitar strung for a right handed player left handed and started to play. The laughter soon turned to amazement as he heard sounds coming from his guitar and amp that had never been heard before. Leo Fender knew that he had found a player who could help him develop the Stratocaster into the greatest Rock'n'Roll guitar in history. The problem was that Dick kept blowing up amps. After carefully explaining that he was trying to recreate the sound of Gene Krupa (as loud a drummer as ever lived) Dick proceeded to blow up 49 amps in a row, some of them expiring in flames!.

Clearly this was not Les Paul and some new technology was required, the combination of a new output transformer that allowed peaks of 100 watts and a custom built JBL 15" speaker became the Single Showman the worlds first power amp. Even this ,for the time, industrial strength power was not enough so a new custom output transformer that allowed peak outputs of 180 watts and a speaker cabinet with 2 of JBL's 15' speakers became the Dual Showman the amplifier that was to form the basis for every LOUD amp that was to follow (Jim Marshal borrowed liberally from Leo Fender's designs for his amps that ruled the sixties).

Only one more piece of technology was required to create Dick's classic sound. Dick found that his voice didn't have a natural vibrato and in looking for some way to thicken up his voice he tore apart an old Hammond organ for the reverb unit, showed it to Leo Fender and between them they developed the Fender Tank Reverb. It didn't take long, of course, for Dick to plug his guitar into the reverb unit and thus was born his signature sound... the clean, single coil Stratocaster played LOUD through a Dual Showman with tons and tons of reverb. A sound developed in the fifties that in the sixties would sweep the world.

Quentin Tarantino's love for early sixties guitarists and his use of their music in his movies has brought both Link Wray and Dick Dale to the fore yet again (Pulp Fiction featured Dick Dale's big hit Miserlou) so Dick's appearance at Wetlands drew an audience way too young to remember him from the first time round, a similar audience in fact to the one at the recent Link Wray show at Tramps.

Dick Dale followed a young band called Speed Demon and blew them away. He walked on stage with his long time bass player , Captain Ron (Ron Eglit), and charged and for a couple of hours Tribeca turned into California, the rainy streets were transformed into a sunny beach. It was a master class in shredding. Dick obviously loves his audience and treats them with respect he has an obvious love for the underdog and for regular people, definitely no big star bullshit here. Along withal the songs for which he is famous there were quotes to other guitarists, he played Rumble and in fact finished the show with that tunes classic three note riff.

I expected loud, I expected fast but what I did not expect was acoustic. Dick played a three song mini unplugged set on an exquisite blond quilted maple acoustic built for him by Charles Fox. Nor did I expect the trumpet but I got it just the same.

Dick Dale was an essential part of the Beach movies if the sixties and his sense of humor was illustrated by the sign in the recent Back to the Beach that read "Dick Dale and at least one original Del-Tone" (one of the original Del-Tones incidentally was Leon Russell). This humor along with the power, the speed and the flat out musicianship made the evening enormously enjoyable. The "Wussey strings" quote comes from the fact that Dick plays the heaviest gauge strings I've ever heard of, even with Dean Markley making special strings for him he still needs to play real heavy strings so as not to break two or three a song. This boy plays hard.