Dick Dale, ‘The King Of Surf Guitar,’ Dies At 81

Dick Dale
Marcy G. Photography
– Dick Dale
Dick Dale performs at the Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans.

Dick Dale, the “King of the Surf Guitar” who inspired musicians from the Beach Boys to Jimi Hendrix, died March 16 after battling cancer for more than 10 years, though the cause of his death hasn’t been announced. He was 81.

He and his band, the Del-Tones, recorded arguably the first surf rock song, “Let’s Go Trippin’,” in 1961. He best-known track, “Miserlou” set the tone playing under the opening credits for Quentin Tarantino’s film “Pulp Fiction” in 1994.

Dale’s death was confirmed to the Guardian by his bassist, Sam Bolle. In addition to fighting rectal cancer twice, he has suffered renal failure and diabetes in addition to other medical issues.

Though his heyday as a guitar god was well behind him, Dale continued to tour, citing mounting medical bills that had to be paid. He famously told the Pittsburgh City Paper in 2015, “I can’t stop touring because I will die.

And tour he did. He last reported box office results to Pollstar for a string of dates in August, and had played on bills with the Indigo Girls in September and October and, at the time of his death, had 2019 performances booked in Southern California and Arizona.

Over the last three years, he played for an average of 264 fans and averaged $8,860 per show. He told the Pittsburgh City Paper in the 2015 interview that he needed to raise at least $3,000 per month just to cover his medical expenses.

Dale was born Robert Mansour in Boston in 1937, moving to Southern California in high school where he honed both his surfing and guitar skills. In time, he struck up a friendship with Leo Fender and was recruited to test out guitar models, making the Fender Stratocaster the instrument of choice among surf rockers in the early to mid-1960s, according to Rolling Stone.

Dale teamed with Stevie Ray Vaughan on a cover of the Chantays’ surf rock classic “Pipeline” that received a 1987 Grammy nomination as Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Dale was also a friend of Pollstar – sitting for a keynote interview with REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin during the Concert Industry Consortium conference (now Pollstar Live!) and calling regularly to regale editorial and route book staff. He discussed his cancer treatment with Pollstar in a 2008 interview, a year after discussing his life and career in a profile that can be read here.