The Long Haul: Dick Dale

This is how I’ve been able to be on stage for 51 years. First of all, I’ve never called myself a guitar player. I don’t know what an augmented 9th or 13th is and couldn’t give a crap. I’ve never had a lesson on any instrument. They said I am a manipulator of the rhythms and sounds of an instrument and use them for the accentuation of pulsification. That’s what Gene Krupa did. He was the first person to make drums a solo instrument.

When kids ask me, "Gee, how do I go places without signing my life away to an agent, etc.?" I tell them, "Save your money and get a subscription to Pollstar and it will give you every club and every place and everywhere to play in the world. It will tell you what the clubs are like, what the music’s like, what the venues are about and who to call. You can go up and knock on the door but you wouldn’t find this out unless you had Pollstar."

But how did Dick Dale stay alive and can play at a casino or to be voted the best rock concert in Madrid in 2006 out of 400 performers? Why is it when you go to a Dick Dale concert, there are five-year-old children and 106-year-olds there under the same roof? You’ll see tattoos, piercings, motorcycle jackets, college professors and people of every ethnic denomination. How did you achieve that?

By the way, I speak of Dick Dale in the third person because people try to get sensational with their writing so they’re either writing about truth or exaggeration. That’s why I don’t do interviews. I know what Dick Dale is all about, and I know what he’s done in this industry and that’s all that’s important. People don’t look into the mirror to see what they’re not.

First of all, I do not play to musicians. I do not like musicians. I’ve never had a drug in my body. I’ve never had alcohol in my body. I don’t smoke. I haven’t eaten red meat in 35 years. I have nothing in common with these guys who act like assholes. And if you act like an asshole, all you’ll draw are assholes. I would stop right in the middle of a song, grab a guy out of the front row, put my thumb in his throat and tell him, "Hey dude, I love playing for you but don’t hurt these little girls in front of me. Go bang your head against the wall. Here’s a Dick Dale guitar pick." Everybody thinks Dick Dale is just talking to a guy in the middle of the song while he’s playing but they don’t know I’ve been good at martial arts since I was in my teens.

I play to grassroots people who count on the "one." There are more grassroots people in those stadiums working for $7 an hour than there are musicians. I make an instrument scream in pain or pleasure, but I do it in meter. Every drummer thinks the most important strike is a fancy paradiddle or a snare. The right answer is the cymbal, hit on the "one." If you’ve got a kid banging his head on the stage and you take a rest on the one, he’ll wonder where the beat went. I make all my drummers go through the Dick Dale School of Pain. I tell them, "Forget what you know. I’m going to teach you how to play to grassroots people and if you don’t like it, leave."

I’ve had a 17 piece band before but three people can sound louder than Motörhead. I achieve it by the drummer being taught to strike the one, the same time my pick is picking downward and the bass player is striking downward.

My whole life was how Gene Krupa studied the natives and their dancing fertility rites and kept it at a certain, monotone sound until they got mesmerized and dropped in exhaustion. It’s rhythmic. It’s sexual. The audience doesn’t know music theory; it only knows what the body can relate to.

When people leave a Dick Dale concert they say, "Oh my God, I’m sweating as bad as he was." And that’s what’s kept me working all of these years. If I go and play Mohegan Sun casino and I see somebody in there who remembers the song "(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey" I’ll play it. I answer all my e-mail. I spend three hours at a show and then two more signing stuff and meeting people. It’s all these tricks of the trade to get standing ovations, to make audiences clap, that make people come back.

I used to work Las Vegas/Reno/Tahoe for 17 years. There were signs in the dressing rooms: "No drum solos." They would drop curtains on bands in the middle of drum solos. Why? Because they all try to be Buddy Rich. People are playing Blackjack, trying to focus and concentrate. It just drives people crazy and they complain. Because of my rebellious nature I would do one every night and the curtain never dropped. I’d stay on the toms and people on the tables would tap their fingers and say, "Hit me! Hit me again!" They were in seventh heaven.

One of the other things I would do to be successful in Las Vegas was, before I’d go onstage, I’d walk up to an older person and his wife and say, "How ya’ll doin’? You’re gonna see the show today?"

I’d learn their names and songs they liked. Then, when I came out, I could genuinely smile because I’d look at Bobby and Betty and let people know about their anniversary and play a song they liked. I made a giant fakebook of everybody’s requests. The press would write that Dick Dale’s back in town with his fakebook.

Be humble enough to say to yourself, "Get rid of your ego." Don’t think you’re so great as to tell people, "You must like what I wrote and created."

My buddy and I created the Playgirl Club in Southern California. We started with a little beer bar, made it to 18,000 square feet and built another one. I spent another 17 years of my life in the club business. I’d bring in all the Vegas show bands and if they said, "We do all of our own stuff," I’d say, "Sorry. We don’t need you." If they could do the Top 10, I’d hire them and say they could do their stuff in the middle. You’ve got to get people to like you first. If you bring back memories, they’re going to like you.

I do this all the time. I’ve never had a playlist. I start with one person, I watch what’s moving and it’s like painting. It’s better than going out and saying, "This is what I’m playing whether you like it or not."

You’re not going to win any bees with mustard. That’s what I’d tell these kids. Play songs people recognize and do it really good. Then play a song you wrote and they’ll accept you.

I tell them not to sign with major labels because they’ll take away all their rights to their music, and they do. In fact, if you go to YouTube, there’s a whole big interview with me in a parking lot and I’ve gotten thousands of e-mails from people thanking me for it. Major record companies won’t handle Dick Dale. They say he’s too difficult to deal with. I just tell them, "Why don’t you tell the truth about how much you’re stealing from the kids?" and that’s that.

Bands can go out there, they can record their own CD and if they get their own little following then, instead of getting a promise of 50 cents a record, they’ll get $15 a record and they own it all. Then, once you build up your repertoire and Mountain Dew wants to give you $500,000 for 30 seconds of your music, you’ll keep it all. And you can pass on your copyrights to your kids. If you’re with a record company, you’ll never see a dime of it. They’ll make you continuously record so they can say they’re in the red. There have been books and books about every band that’s been screwed.