Dick Dale is known as "The King of the Surf Guitar," and it’s a title that few have contested. The fervid instrumentals he cut in the early 1960s are widely credited as landmarks in the development of Surf Rock – his 1961 single “Let’s Go Trippin’” is often cited as the first Surf record.
Dale (birth name Richard Monsour) was born in Boston, Mass., to a Lebanese-American family. His family moved to Southern California when he was 16, and Dale became a passionate surfer. He's said that his love of surfing inspired him to come up with a style of music that matched the rush of riding the waves. Another influence was Dale’s Middle Eastern heritage – his instrumentals favored Middle Eastern tonalities as well as a rapid-fire picking style influenced by players of the oud, a guitar-like Arabic instrument.
In July 1961, Dale and his band the Del-Tones began a residency at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, Calif., that is often pointed to as the moment when Surf Rock was born. His shows there were wildly popular, drawing throngs of surfers and others. In addition to his instrumental prowess, Dale, who favored high-powered Fender amplifliers, grabbed audiences’ attention through sheer volume. Also distinctive was his playing style – a lefty, he played a right-handed guitar flipped upside down, so that the strings were in reverse order.
“Let’s Go Trippin’” was released in September 1961; Dale had a second hit with a version the Arabic folk song “Miserlou” in 1962. His first album, Surfer’s Choice, came out the same year; several more followed. The arrival of the British Invasion, which dampened Surf’s popularity, and a bout with rectal cancer led to Dale’s retirement in the mid-1960s. But he returned to performing and recording in the 1970s, and has remained active ever since. He got a Grammy nomination in 1987 for a duet with Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Pipeline,” and his profile got a significant boost in 1994, when “Miserlou” was prominently featured in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction.