The ‘King of Surf Guitar’ Dick Dale Passes Away at 81

Dick Dale in concert, 2015
  • Save

Surf rock legend Dick Dale has passed away at age 81.

Dale’s song ‘Misirlou’ is well known as the opening credits sequence for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.  But that’s just one lasting relic of Dick Dale’s considerable musical legacy.

Dale’s blindingly fast strumming style inspired acts like The Beach Boys and Jimi Hendrix.  When asked about his style, Dale said it was inspired by the rumble and crash of the waves he surfed in California.

His biggest musical influence was — literally — the crashing surf.

Dale’s death was confirmed by bassist Sam Bolle late Saturday night.

No cause of death has been revealed yet, but Dale had a long history of health problems.  He has dealt with renal failure, diabetes, and cancer throughout his life.  Sadly, Dale was touring through many of those illnesses, admittedly to pay the bills for a number of expensive health treatments.

Fans and celebs alike have been paying their respects to Dale on social media. He has often been described as the “King of the Surf Guitar” and the “Pied Piper of Balboa Beach.”

Dick Dale was born Richard Anthony Monsour in Boston, Massachusetts in 1937.

His father emigrated from Lebanon, and his mother was a Polish Belarusian.  His music was influenced by his heritage, with Middle Eastern and Eastern European melodies frequently mixed into exotic scales that weren’t common in rock music.

Dale tried to learn the trumpet and ukulele as a boy before settling on guitar after buying one for $8 from a friend. He became a surfer after his family moved to California at age 17.

Those two elements soon blended into a revolutionary brew.

Dale developed his iconic percussive style of playing on a right-handed guitar, despite being left-handed.  Dale’s plucking of the strings often meant he could wear a single guitar pick down to a stub — even after playing just one song.

Dale retired from music in 1966 after being diagnosed with rectal cancer.  He briefly returned to music in the 1980s and continued to tour until his death. I n 2012, he told Vice News that his doctors advised against playing at all.

“They say I should never be on stage, I shouldn’t be playing. My medical bill is over $3,000 a month to buy supplies I have to get for my body.”

Dale credited his wife Lana in that interview as the one who brought him back to the stage.