Dick Dale: The Guitar Master is Rocking in the Moment and Having the Time of His Life at 74 Years Young

Posted on: Jun 10th, 2011 By:

The Earl, Friday June 11, 8:30 PM; with Laramie Dean opening; nonsmoking.

Photo courtesy of Dick Dale.

Dick Dale insists he’s not a master of any trade, but fans of the undisputed King of the Surf Guitar would disagree. After all, who else pioneered the Fender Stratocaster guitar and rocked the strings so hard that he blew up a battalion of amps before Leo Fender developed one that could withstand Dick Dale? The man, after all, has a career spanning more than five decades. At age 74, he hasn’t tuned down the noise and even a recent bout of cancer and extreme high blood sugar episodes from diabetes haven’t slowed down his touring. In fact, you get the impression that touring and playing is what keeps him alive in a way that most people would envy.

Dick’s current tour is a special treat, in that he’s hitting smaller clubs like The Earl in a 17-city circuit. Former-roadie-turned-protégé Laramie Dean (Agent Orange) is the one to thank for suggesting the idea, as well as Dick’s wanting to support his son Jimmy Dale, who plays with Dean and is blossoming into one hell of a drummer himself. I had a list of 10 or so questions prepared, but as soon as I dialed up Dick, relaxing in his hotel room before his Austin gig on Tuesday night, it was clear he had a few things on his chest that he wanted to talk about. So I just rode the wave he offered, enjoying surfing through Dale’s passion for supporting Jimmy, recent highlights from the road, his health challenges, the pleasures of clean living (he’s never drank alcohol nor taken drugs, and he quit smoking and red meat years ago) and his lifelong love affair with country music. I’ve edited the conversation down a little bit only for space and repetition and divided his comments by subject, but what follows is mostly unexpurgated, authentic Dick.

On how martial arts gave him his philosophy of life – the joy of living in the moment

To set a foundation for this conversation, I’ve been doing martial arts all my life, and I’ve been all over the world with different masters. I’ve been with the monks with their way of thinking, and that’s the way I can put up with the cancer and all the crap that’s happened with me and being on stage without taking drugs. I once asked my master, “why I can’t I be the best of something and just be unbeatable?” He said, “yes, you can, but you have to give up everything in your life. You must eat and sleep and breathe it.” So he said, “let me ask you something, “would you rather be a master of one or you would rather be a jack of all trades, master of none?” He said, “if you are master of one, you’d be awfully dull at a gathering, wouldn’t you?” It’d be like Einstein. He wouldn’t be able to talk to somebody who’s a contractor or flies an airplane or is shooting bows and arrows or surfing huge waves and surfing little waves. So I chose to learn about as many things as I could—everything from raising canaries to welding to building houses to whatever. I’d have libraries ceiling to floor on all these things, and I’d then ask people who are very successful and be humble in asking.

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