Dick Dale's touring is done


I'll let other folks write their histories of surf guitar king, Dick Dale. I actually hate writing about people I liked, loved, and looked up to dying. I'm pretty sick of death, of obituaries, of grief, sorrow, and loss. I'm putting this bit down mostly so I don't totally forget that Dick was a whole lot more than surf guitar, Miserlou, and an aging rocker who had to keep touring to pay for his healthcare needs, something that's utterly depressing and sad.

Of course, I had heard Dick's music as a kid growing up on the beaches of southern California. How exactly, could I have missed it? It felt just like a long, fun, day at Huntington or Newport Beach, the kind of day that would seemingly roll on forever, with the waves, the sea, the salt air, the sunset over the ocean, the bonfire with the waves crashing in the darkness. I thought it was cool when Dick's Miserlou was featured in Pulp Fiction and a resurgence of interest in his music began.

But honestly, I didn't think about Dick Dale all that much, up until my wife and I made the absolutely stupid decision to have a booth at some kind of summer festival in Twentynine Palms. What a dumb idea.

We had been running a street fair business together, selling fine hand cut/hand blown Slovakian crystal that we imported from a friend of the family whose family had been making this crystal since the mid-1700s, along with Egyptian hand blown/hand painted perfume bottles, essential oils from Egypt, some great soy candles from northern California, and other handicraft items. We had wanted to build a little business in the hi-desert, around our own communities, but that turned out to be a fairly unprofitable idea. We did a little arts fair in downtown Joshua Tree and sold a few things, so we decided we'd do this little festival in 29.

Of course, The (historic) Plaza where this little festival was taking place, had their parking lot very recently asphalted with black asphalt to soak up and radiate heat. The festival became more and more unbearable as the day went on, with us selling absolutely nothing, of course. We had metal folding chairs with plastic caps on the legs. The plastic caps melted off and the hollow metal chair legs sank about two inches deep into the asphalt. My wife nearly had heat stroke. It sucked in a sweaty and broiling kind of way.

This "festival" had some kind of flatbed trailer for musicians to perform from. Just when things seemed utterly hopeless as the temperature crept toward 100 degrees, Dick Dale began performing from the trailer. Jimmy, his son, was on the drums, I think, and Jill, his (later) ex-wife, was on bass, if I recall correctly. I don't remember there being anyone other than the three of them, but they put out a lot of sound and energy, and no doubt, sweat.

Their short set was the ultimate highlight of the day, of course, and I was happy to eventually follow that up with a couple of visits out to Dick's ranch on the border between 29 and Wonder Valley. The first time, Dick and Jill were still together, and Jill pretty much avoided me, though I had a great time with Dick and Jimmy, and got a nice living room concert and tour of the property. It was a modest desert rambler built at what had been a World War II glider base or something, now known as Dick Dale's Skyranch. It's been a long time, but Dick had a plane there, I think, sharing a hangar with some collectible cars.

He had recently built a large wooden skateboard set up with ramps and stuff, and a typical hi-desert windstorm had lifted it and shoved it into the side of his house. He told me about a 2,500 gallon water tank that the winds had thrown - four miles away. This wasn't surprising, really. After all, my wife's hairdresser who lived in Wonder Valley, had his house pretty smashed up by a tornado. The funny thing with that was Southern California Edison kept sending him a bill, even though his place had its meter ripped off the house and thrown somewhere into the desert. "How do you determine how much you bill me?" he asked Edison. "We read the meter," was the reply. "You found it!" Jerry excitedly replied.

In any event, I wrote a story about Dick and Jimmy, who is incredibly musically talented. Later, I returned to do a cover story for my late desert magazine, The Sun Runner. Dick and Jill had divorced by then, and Dick had remarried. Lana was outgoing, friendly, and supportive of Dick's healthy living approach toward life, and his musical career. Dick either had seen, or would soon see, a return of his rectal cancer which had derailed his musical career decades before. Stories of Dick having to tour in the past decade to pay for his medical needs were real. As he turned 81, Dick was still rocking on, colostomy bag and all. There's a telling story about Dick's colostomy bag leaking while he was getting ready to go on stage at the Viva Las Vegas Festival. Fecal matter, he said, leaked all over his clothes. Lana had to undress him and wash everything quickly. He went on stage, and then signed autographs and merchandise for hours in wet clothes.

Again, when I visited, I was treated to a great living room concert, and a lot of good stories. Jimmy and Dick were set to play Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace later that week, in an acoustic father-son concert. After the magazine came out, I made some vertical hanging banners with the cover printed on them, for Dick who hung them at his NAM performances with Jimmy. I think he was there repping a Dick Dale special guitar for Fender. Dick had a long history with Fender, blowing out a ton of their amps back in the days when playing at the volume he liked to play at was unthinkable.

After the cover story, it seemed there was a significant falling out between father and son, following Dick and Jill's (Jimmy's mom) divorce. While on tour, Jill and Jimmy had been having a bit of a bonfire over at the ranch. Apparently they tossed a five gallon propane canister on the fire and shot it at around 3:30 one morning, resulting in an enormous explosion that shot up into the dark early morning sky. If you're looking for stories on this incident, look for Jill and James Monsour. Dick's given name is Richard Monsour, reflecting his Lebanese heritage.

Dick was frustrated with Jimmy, but I got the feeling it was pretty much likewise. Lana and Dick, however, both facing their own health-related challenges, seemed to be having a good time. They were big supporters of The Sun Runner and my work, and I'm grateful for that. I even got a Christmas card from them this past Christmas.

I can't say enough about Dick's natural talent and his awesome presence on the guitar. The two were clearly meant for each other. I'm hoping Jimmy picks up the ball and runs with it, as he has inherited much of the talent of his father, and adds to it his own. I worry about Lana as I know she and Dick had been selling off Dick's plane and cars just to pay the medical bills. It's truly a shame that our country can't figure out a way for people to actually get healthcare without going bankrupt or just plain out and out dying.

I know Dick and Lana both were mighty disappointed that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continued to overlook Dick, despite him having a fundamental role in not only the creation of surf music, but also in the development of rock guitar playing, influencing countless other players, as well as the development of the musical gear that supported the evolution of rock itself.

No doubt there's some kind of asinine politics involved, as the Beastie Boys get inducted and Dick gets ignored (not that the Beasties shouldn't be there, but they should be joining Dick there). Somehow Def Leopard and Cheap Trick made it, but Dick didn't? Omitting Dick Dale from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame illegitimizes them, not Dick. I mean, how do you get Herb Alpert into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and leave one of rock's most influential guitarists out? You don't, if you're doing a good job.

But enough. Dick's in my damned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and always will be. He has been an inspiration for me both musically and personally, despite the fact that he's been human and flawed as well.

You, Misirlou, are a dream of delight in the night.

To an oasis, sprinkled by stars above, Heaven will guide us, Allah will bless our love.

I hope Dick finds his oasis, where sickness and pain leave him, and as the stars come out in the darkening desert skies, I hope to hear the music rise.

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Just an old sea cook seeking an outward bound voyage.

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© 2019 by Shanghai Brown, Sun Runner Media.