In spite of a lifetime of healthy living that includes vegetarianism, martial arts, and an aversion to drugs and alcohol, Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar, realizes that he has a date with Grim Reaper. In our interview this week, Dale described the litany of medical problems besetting him and railed about all of the errors and incompetent doctors that have led him at times to the brink of death.
In fact, as our conversation ended and Rocks Off asked him how his health situation allows him to tour, he said the doctors had told him he should not tour.
"Fuck that," Dale scoffed. "If I'm going out, and I surely am, I'm going out wailing. I hope I just turn into a big puff of smoke right there onstage."
Well, Dick Dale did indeed play an inspired set Wednesday night before the largest crowd Rocks Off has seen at the Continental in ages, and in spite of his assertion that "I am basically having renal failure" he prowled the stage like a man possessed as he worked his way through an impromptu sampling of his massive catalog - "I never use a set list" - that seared the heavens.
And by the time Dale and his cohorts left the stage, there was little doubt who the Godfather was. In fact, as Dale segued from his surf hits like "California Sun" and Texas-tailored oddities like "Ghost Riders in the Sky" into metal giants like "Smoke On the Water," he gave a little history lesson and left no doubt that metal, which is the genre his son Jimmy Dale prefers, is his grandchild.
And if you don't understand that Dick Dale is also the fountainhead of punk, then you haven't listened to the man rip through his obscure classic "Bonzai Washout" enough.
But Dale is far more than a living history lesson of where our favorite music comes from. He is the ultimate showman. His first trick was beginning the show from offstage, as he stood at the bottom of the stage stairs wailing on his Strat to announce his presence. And his singalong of "House of the Rising Sun" was the loudest crowd singing we've ever heard at a Houston gig.
Dale also knows how to end a show. His simple intro - "this one is for the troops" - of "Amazing Grace" belied the power and glory of what Dale was about to do to this classic hymn. Let's just say that Judy Collins was nowhere in the room.
And when Dale segued into his signature Pulp Fiction hit "Miserlou," he drove the nail into the coffin hard. There really aren't words for the power and joy that jolted the adoring crowd.
Let us not forget that Dale is first and foremost a living Fender advertisement. We must say that his was the loudest, clearest, most perfectly dialed-in sound that we've ever heard at the Continental. When James McMurtry or Sonny Landreth play this loud, it's painful. Dale's sound was loud enough to be heard in Galveston, yet ear plugs weren't a necessity.
The man knows what he's doing around amplifiers.
But alas, he didn't leave the stage in a cloud of smoke. Not for lack of trying. And, as someone posted on our Facebook late last night, "Dick Dale is a national treasure."
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