Surf King

Guitar pioneer Dick Dale is rocking like never before at 60

"There was a lot of pressure. Some guy from the Los Angeles Times was there, a big critic.

"I got out and I just ripped for 20 minutes nonstop. Well, that started it. The next day, a full page of the Los Angeles Times was a write-up of Dick Dale that if I paid a million dollars I could have never bought."

Henceforth Dale would record and perform as a power trio. Signing with the indie label Hightone, he released Tribal Thunder in 1993. The album, and particularly the single "Nitro," seemed to pick up where "Miserlou" and "The Wedge" left off, featuring the same guitar pyrotechnics with hints of Spanish and Middle Eastern melody lines, but faster and cleaner.

"Nitro" began to show up on the CMJ college-radio charts. The next year, he released his second Hightone album, Unknown Territory, and set off cross-country in earnest, typically beginning his shows with the proud boast, "I have come to melt your ears."

In 1994, Dale's music--specifically, "Miserlou"--got its broadest exposure ever when Quentin Tarantino used it behind the opening credits in his film Pulp Fiction, and on the soundtrack album, which went platinum. According to Dale, it was "Miserlou" that inspired the movie, after Tarantino saw one of his live sets.

"He said, 'Dick Dale, I'm one of your biggest fans. "Miserlou" is a masterpiece, it's the good, bad and the ugly all together. It's very heraldic'--that's the word he used--'the trumpets, it's like Ben Hur. I would love to have your permission to create a movie to complement it.'"

Dale's professional trajectory makes the Grateful Dead's "long strange trip" look like a walk to the corner store. He says he has no plans to retire--he roars when the subject is hinted at: "When Dick Dale dies, he's not going to be sitting in a goddamned wheelchair with a can of beer and a big potbelly going 'Get me another beer, Mary,' rotting away like some little leaf in the eddy of a stream. Dick Dale will die in one fucking big explosion onstage!

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