According to the NY times, “Dick Dale, who was known as the King of the Surf Guitar and recorded the hit song “Misirlou,” which was revived on the “Pulp Fiction” film soundtrack, died on Saturday, March 16th, 2019 in Loma Linda, Calif. He was 81. Dale was a surfer, sound pioneer and guitarist whose unusual, percussive playing style and thick, thunderous music earned him the nickname the Father of Heavy Metal. He influenced the Beach Boys, the Cure, Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix, among others.”
I saw him play live several times and have “heard” greats like Keith Richards and Rick Neilson, but only Dick Dale makes you feel those chainsaw licks right in your gut. I guess you’d have to be there. There was no one like him.
I feel that in his own way, Dick Dale was every bit an “Imagineer” himself. He questioned the status quo, drove himself to make his sound and his shows everything they could be, and invented his own sound that others envied. Bob Gurr…. with a guitar.
“Surf music is a heavy machine-gun staccato picking style to represent the power of Mother Nature, of our earth, of our ocean,” he told The New York Times in 1994. His almost constant tremolo created friction so intense that it melted his guitar picks and strings as he played.
“The staccato is so fast it heat-treats the strings,” he said. “They turn purple and black and they snap. And when I play, you’ll see a flurry of plastic — it just falls down like snow. I used to think it was dandruff. But I grind so hard that the guitar picks just melt down.”
His quest for a sonic impact to match what he had felt while surfing also led to innovations that would change the technology of electric guitars and amplification.
Leo Fender, one of the electric guitar’s trailblazers, worked with Mr. Dale to create a guitar sturdy enough to withstand his style — Mr. Dale called it the Beast — and an 85-watt amplifier that could crank up loud enough to fill a dance hall.
“Leo and I went to Lansing Speaker,” Mr. Dale said in 1994, “and we said, ‘We need a speaker that will not burn, will not flex, will not twist, will not break.’ ” - NY Times.
In all the glowing obituaries you hear of his career, including this one, no mention is made of his contribution to Disneyland’s Space Mountain. Always the pioneer, (and he told me so!) little or no mention is made that his licks were part of another pioneering achievement, in 1996 the first digitally synchronized music on a Rollercoaster. Hear it here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GafVwbJA-c
Why Dick Dale? Then Disney CEO Michael Eisner wanted a recognizable classical score as in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey", but a waltz, given the dynamic speed of the ride, felt inappropriate to the action. Composer Arrin Richard and I finally settled on using a classical melody that was familiar, but with a faster tempo. Although the mood was there, it was not driven by the action and movement of the vehicle. We wanted to accentuate the G-forces guests feel when pressed into the twists, turns, and drops each rocket endures. An electric guitar "lick" or "riff" over the score might give us that effect; (think of Led Zeppelin's "Whole lotta' love"). To that end, we wanted Dick Dale who invented them. We rode Space Mountain after hours at least 30 times, listening and timing each solo of Dale's guitar over the score till they were synced perfectly to the action.
Perhaps only surpassed by the renaissance in “Pulp Fiction,” was his sound exposed to more people in recent memory than on Space Mountain. Dale’s throbbing “Ghost Riders in the Sky” was synced to a music video depicting the development of the NASA space program and played on a loop for waiting guests, later Camille St. Saens “Aquarium” melody played out on a revolutionary on-board audio system attached to each ride vehicle. Arranged and performed by Disney’s Arrin Richard, Dale (who did not read music) would then add his “chainsaw” riffs that were to be triggered to compliment each twist, turn and drop of your “rocket”. Dale’s music played continuously on the attraction for millions till 2005.
I called and persuaded Dick to be a part of the Space Mountain experience in part by promising him he could play live atop Space Mountain ( I started with the Matterhorn and was force to renege when they would not let him up there, ) which he agreed to do on the re-opening of Tomorrowland on May 21st 1998. That moment meant a lot to him personally, and to us as well. From a tiny platform between the spires of the Mountain, high above the park and a packed Tomorrowland… Dick yells to the crowd
“It can’t get any better than this!”
We agree, thanks Dick for all your musical “Imagineering!”