Dick Dale – Surfer’s Choice


If you can get past the erroneous claim on the shrinkwrap’s sticker, not to mention Dick Dale’s enormous ego (in evidence in various ways), you’ll be glad you did. Because if you’re not familiar with the self-proclaimed (and unchallenged) King Of Surf Guitar’s early work, wax up your board; you’re in for a hell of a ride!

The aforementioned sticker claims that this album “single-handedly created surf music” – even though SoCal bands like the Belairs and studio combos like the Gamblers were playing and recording surf instrumentals at the same time or earlier. The liner notes, though, get downright surreal. Example: “In the beginning, there was the T-rex… then came Dick Dale.” “Who wrote this?,” you ask? Why, Dick Dale, of course. (If you’re wondering why the guitarist refers to himself in the third person, you’re new to this surf stuff, aren’t you?)

In recent years, the Dickster has embellished his bio so much, his records should be stocked in the salt section of your local grocery store – because any “facts” need to be taken with more than just a grain of sodium. Unfortunately, annotator Barry Alfonso falls for every bit of misinformation, hook, line and sinker. No, Jimi Hendrix did not dedicate “Third Stone From The Sun” to Dick Dale; “You’ll never hear surf music again” was not a tribute to the most out-of-fashion genre of the late ’60s. This is about as true as Dale talking about riding five-mile waves (really? five miles?) or the notion that school teachers made the girls sit on the floor and cross their legs, fearing they’d lose control over Dick’s fertility-dance rhythms.

But the biggest, most obvious falsehood is that this entire album (released 11/62) was recorded without the aid of Fender’s outboard Reverb tank. The reason Dale has insisted on this fantasy is because he has continually back-dated his “invention” of surf music – to the point that it eventually pre-dated the introduction (in early 1962) of the Fender Reverb. But anyone with ears can tell the difference. His first single, “Let’s Go Trippin’,” cut in September ’61? Pre-reverb. Songs like “Surf Beat,” “Surfing Drums,” and “Miserlou” (presented here in its original single form as well as the LP’s string-sweetened “Twist” version)? Dripping with spring reverb. The difference is night and day.

Alfonso also feels compelled to declare Dale the granddaddy of surf music. But mere volume does not heavy metal make, and Dick’s talent and actual accomplishments needn’t be piggybacked onto a more contemporary style.

Having said all that, I can’t urge you to buy this CD strongly enough. What? Well, Dick’s baloney aside, he’s truly one of the electric guitar’s unique stylists, and you can’t find a much more powerful musical experience than the aforementioned “Mirserlou” or “A Run For Life,” two of the six bonus tracks generously tacked on by Sundazed. So crank it up!

This article originally appeared in VG‘s FEB. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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