While guitar-driven music has continued to evolve into the 21st Century, you'd be hard-pressed to find any single guitar player today worthy of the title pioneer. Sure, some experiment left and right with their millions of sound-effects racks and ready-made sequencing loops. But what does it take to actually develop a whole new style of plucking those six strings?
Maybe you should ask Dick Dale, long anointed "King of Surf Guitar." Not only did this guy invent the surf-guitar style as we know it; he played a pivotal role in the technology behind the big guitar sound that modern-day ax wielders take for granted. Dale not only invented the wheel; he gave it a shot of reverb to truly round it out. And the Big Kahuna of rock 'n' roll is still making waves more than four decades later.
Despite the popular misconception that the surf-guitar style was the result of a heavily reverberated guitar sound, Dale likes to point out that it was his rapid-fire picking technique that first defined the style. It wasn't until after the release of his first album, 1962's Surfers' Choice, when Dale knew there was more he could do with his music.
"I didn't have a natural vibrato on my voice," Dale recalls. "So one day, I took the back off of my Hammond organ and saw the tank. I took it to Leo [Fender, founder of Fender Musical Instruments], and he put some tubes in it. I plugged it into my birdcage microphone and ran it through my amp. I sounded just like Elvis. I did this for a couple of weeks before I got the idea to put my guitar through it."
And just like that, a staple of modern amplification effects was born, thus securing Dale's status as legend and pioneer. But while Dale has maintained a solid fan base in the 40-plus years he's been playing, his popularity was given a boost in 1994 when his classic "Miserlou" was chosen as the lead song for Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Still, it wasn't until a recent Nissan commercial featured Dale himself that his resurgence hit its current peak.
"Instead of making me a cult figure, it made me a well-known person around the world," Dale says of the commercial.
That's all fine and dandy, Dale admits, but nothing compares to the joy of playing with his newest musical collaborator -- his 11-year-old son, Jimmy, who plays guitar and drums. Though school prevents Jimmy from touring with his dad, the two plan to record in the near future. For now, Dale is busy making the rounds to meet his legions of fans, whom Dale considers his only audience. "I'm not there to impress the critics or teachers or other musicians," Dale comments. "I am a manipulator of the instrument, and I am there to bring out a feeling from the soul." Yes, Dale has certainly paid his dues in the music industry, but he has this piece of advice for struggling musicians out there: "When you fall in a bucket of shit, tell yourself it's perfume, because you might be there a while."