By his own account King of the Surf Guitar, Dick Dale turns 80 on May 4th. And he can still shred better than you ever could.
He's slightly more cantankerous than when I last saw him 15 or so years ago, but the man is a living, breathing legend, so he gets a pass. He really put his band and sound guy through the paces. He even shooed me away from taking pictures. But as bassist Sam Bolle (Agent Orange/Deana Carter) put it, "it's the Dick Dale show" and we're all just trying to "stay out of his way".
Even in his late 70's he's still a phenomenon. He gets his incredible distinctive tone without the benefit of effects pedals or tremolo bar on his vintage gold sparkle Stratocaster. And as a lefty, he does it all upside down and backwards, just like Hendrix. Or more accurately, Jimi did it like Dale. It looks like he's still using his classic reverb unit, Fender heads and Showman amps from the early 1960's.
Being just feet from the man for an hour + set, I couldn't help but notice his hands. Still strong enough to bend and ply strings and neck to his will. It all seemingly flows from him. He's an expert on the sounds his hammering or slightest touch will evoke. He even tapped out a killer metallic riff of the back of Bolle's bass with drum mallets.
The King admitted to us that he's been "faking it" all these years. If he suddenly lunges from "Let's go Trippin'" into "Shake n' Stomp" its because he "can't remember how it ends" and its up for his band to keep up. And they do remarkably well.
We got a rumbling drum line, the requisite Dale trumpet solo, complete with Satchmo impression and some instruction how to blow a mean harmonica. After dipping his "not a harp" (that's what his "mother plays up above") into a cup of water to wet the reed, those of us in the front rows received a holy blessing from the king.
Rousing covers of "Fever", "Bo Diddley" and "House of the Rising Sun" were included in the set along with his signature Misirlou and a ballsy "Smoke on the Water" vamp. Dale closed with a thanks to those in the military (himself an Air Force vet) and emergency services with a reverb drenched rendition of "Amazing Grace".
Dick Dale continues his run through Dixie tonight in Atlanta before heading to the West Coast.