It has been a little while since I’ve written due to a myriad of reasons, such as power outages throughout New Jersey in the wake of hurricane Sandy, a friend’s wedding, and a Hawaiian honeymoon, the latter of which is the inspiration for this article. In my travels I became obsessed with my sun-soaked temporary paradise and rekindled my love of surf rock. For those of you who have heard it before it really sounds like nothing before it and legendary guitarist Dick Dale is the primary reason for it’s existence. Let’s have a look and see as to why Surfers’ Choice is so influential.
From the very beginning of album opener “Surf Beat” it should be clear that his guitar tone would be one to influence many in the future as this album was released in 1962 and this style with flair and flourish had really not been seen before. His riffs are fast and furious and their overall sound helped to launch his career to dizzying heights – he still performs to this day, to his fans he has affectionately deemed “Dick-heads.” However as an album Surfers’ Choice is a bit odd and one that seems like it is constantly trying to punctuate the great guitar work with a very poppy ’60s sound. The songs most guilty of this sonic shift; are “Sloop John B”, “Night Owl”, and “Peppermint Man”. They tried very hard to push album sales by using a lot of these songs yet it was to no avail – as it never went beyond no. 59 on the Billboard charts.
A great addition to his overall sound would have to be the horns that back him up; since most of his music was strictly instrumental it helped to pace his work much better. His melodic guitar sound by way of his amplifier was always the major distinguishing characteristic and you can very easily imagine people losing their minds on the dance floor due to his particular style of speed pre-dated heavy metal. He worked with sound genius Leo Fender (yes that Fender) on various different amps, all of which Dale blew up. He eventually settled on a JBL amp which became the Single Showman amp and he and his trusty Stratocaster were ready to roll.
Back to the album we find the studio version of ‘Miserlou Twist‘ to be even more based in the middle eastern sound than the common single version of the very same. Dale’s father is of Lebanese descent and his love of Arabic music is constantly felt throughout a multitude of his songs. He is backed up by a string section that really enhances the feeling that you are in the desert as Dale blazes through a set of expertly played riffs, surely stupefying any crowd for which he may be playing for. ‘Surfing Drums‘ sees more of his staccato picking as his interconnected web of riffs were unparalleled at the time. Some of the more relevant shredders of the next 2 decades namely Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen were clearly influenced by the exemplary work on display here; not to mention the superb drumming whose own velocity and power matched Dale’s.
Arguably the very first song ever recorded on surf guitar is the very last track on the album, ‘Let’s Go Trippin‘. The song starts off relatively slow but ends up erupting into what feels like Dale riding a wave high atop a surfboard before a large beach crowd. While to some modern fans of heavy music this may not ultimately be apparent – though his influence and this music may be cast asunder as just plain “old” – had it not been for this sound and frankly, speed we may have not been able to enjoy the music that we do today.
I hope all of the readers and aspiring guitarists out there can see where this article is coming from. We were given Dick Dale by some otherworldly being and we shouldn’t take this for granted as whenever we hear some form of heavy metal or rock music we are partially indebted to this man and legend. Feel free to drop me a comment about a band you’d like to see covered, or just leave one as a sign of good faith. For what I’m currently listening to you can always check out my Last.fm page if you like. For now we will continue to surf our way into next week’s column.