Gone Trippin' - Saying Goodbye to the King of Surf Guitar

It was a bittersweet night at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano last Saturday, May 25, 2019. The night had originally been reserved for the King of Surf Guitar, Dick Dale. But Dick's death in March led to the date transitioning into a memorial benefit concert. The venue was nearly sold-out, and Lana Dale, Dick's wife and constant partner and manager spoke to the crowd several times throughout the night.

I didn't know what to expect, but I was thrilled to attend. Dick's absence loomed over the event, but there to remember him and bring the spirit of his legendary life alive was a roster that resembled a Who's Who of Surf Music - all worthy of recognition themselves. It was appropriate that Joey Gieniec and his band, Joey & His Showmen, started off with a set that summoned up the past. Joey had managed to join Dick as one of the Del Tones, and is a consummate showman who has been a friend of Dick's for many years. With a blast of reverb that rang through the venue, it was announced, "Dick's in the room." The Showmen were superb, and it was interesting to listen to the power chords, beats, and guitar riffs of these songs from 50 (or more) years ago, realizing here in these songs you could find the seeds of much of what you hear in metal, punk, and other more contemporary genres of music. There's musical history here.

And that's one of the things I think about a lot when listening to music - how earlier music influenced what I'm hearing now. Some of that comes from my decades as a traditional shantyman, then leader of a pirate jam band that often performs traditional music in a more contemporary format. Singing songs that go back up to 500 years or more leads you to think about the oral tradition, and how songs are passed down, generation to generation. Then, as a musician, you realize how much you're influenced by the musicians you've listened to in your youth, and even later on. My drumming heroes were John Bonham and Keith Moon, but I realize I have, over the years, borrowed much from many other drummers.

So, echoing around the Coach House, I could hear the music that would influence the guitar rock sounds of the future. Dick had been a huge influence on rock and metal guitarists that came after him. Inside this music, you could hear other influences - the Middle Eastern influence brought from Dick's roots to surf guitar, and a strong Latin presence as well (if you've never heard a surf guitar rendition of "Brazil," then you have been sorely deprived). It was a perfect epitome of the California sound of the decade of my birth. I loved it.

After Joey & His Showmen's set, they backed up a series of guests. First up was Bob Spickard, lead guitarist for the Chantays, and co-writer of the 1963 surf classic, "Pipeline." Bob only did the one song and then it was on to Jim Masoner, lead guitarist for the LIvely Ones, whose 1963 hit "Surf Rider" wound up 31 years later alongside of Dick Dale's revised Misirlou in "Pulp Fiction."

Dick Dale & Stevie Ray Vaughn performing "Pipeline."

Jim Masoner's "Surf Rider."

Following Jim was Will Glover, guitarist and vocalist for the Pyramids. Their recordings of "Penetration," "Here Comes Marsha," and "Contact," found them a spot in the 1964 Frankie and Annette surf movie "Bikini Beach." Will brought enough energy to the stage for a full band. His mini-set included his surf hits, along with "Bikini Drag," from the movie, and George Strait's "Fireman." Will's still working and a visit to his website pays off with a great story about Don Rickles' practical joking on the set of "Bikini Beach."

The Pyramids and "Penetration."

Finally, Ernie Tavizon, who had been playing the whole evening already, was fully featured for a set dating back to his time with the Marketts, a session band that released what was the first surf genre record in 1962 - "Surfer's Stomp." The Marketts lineup included Hal Blaine on drums, another music great who left us this year. It was impossible not to enjoy Ernie's playing - all evening long.

But when Ernie's songs were finished, some in the audience were under the impression the concert was over. It wasn't. Bob Berryhill and the Surfaris were up for a full set! Of course, it wasn't the original lineup of the Surfaris from when Bob was 15 and they became international stars with their song "Wipe Out" in 1963. Instead, Bob has cleverly turned his seriously talented family into his band. His sons play rhythm guitar and drums (sometimes switching out so the drummer sings while the rhythm player drums), and his wife plays bass. While it was a great performance, it sadly reminded me of the first time I saw Dick Dale perform - with his son Jimmy on drums and his former wife, Jill, on bass.

It also brought up the thousands (literally) of times I've played "Wipe Out" myself. In high school, our band played three nights a week in a country bar, the Pine Cone Inn, south of Grants Pass, Oregon. Every night we'd be forced to play "Wipe Out" at least once a set. With three nights per week and five sets per night, we played that damned song so often that I'd get up off the drums and go play it on guitar, the guitarist would play keyboards, and the keyboard player - 15 years old and blind - would go back and play it on drums.

By the time the concert did end, we had absorbed and thoroughly enjoyed three hours of surf music, but it still felt empty. The King had already gone. We headed over to give Lana a hug and thank her for the evening. She's planning to write Dick's biography. I think that's an excellent idea. He led a fascinating, and often challenging, life, and faced it all with courage and great spirit. Lana's been through enough and after the deaths of Dick, her mother, and lifelong friend, Doris Day, she needs something positive to focus on, instead of all the grief and sorrow of this year so far. I offered my assistance on the bio, and she noted she already has plans for me in that regard.

It was nearly midnight as we headed back to San Clemente. Off in the dark, the waves were crashing on the beach. One force of nature has moved on, one continues, the two still entwined.

"Dick Dale is a force of nature." - Brian Wilson

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