I’ve been playing guitar for 18 years now, since I was 13 years old. There are a massive number of songs I can attribute to shaping the musician I’ve turned out to be over these 18 years, songs of various genres and various acts. However in terms of actual named musicians, specifically guitarists that actually shaped the direction of my musicianship, that list is extremely small.
And the name of the guitarist that had the most influence on my early years learning the instrument, that was Dick Dale.
It’s funny because in all honestly, I never listened to his music the way that I listen to all the bands and musicians I like. You won’t see “Let’s go Trippin'”, “Misirlou”, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, or “Pipeline” on my Spotify playlists. You won’t see a Dick Dale poster on my bedroom wall, nor photographs from the past where such a poster would be on my wall. No stickers on my guitar case, no patches, no nothing. I never listened to Dick Dale’s music that much, but the little time I did listen to his stuff, I learned a lot from him.
In my first year of learning the instrument, naturally everyone’s first song they learn is “Smoke on the Water”, right? Wrong. First song that wasn’t out of a music book that I learned was the aforementioned “Pipeline”. Simple enough song, didn’t require the greatest amount of musicianship in the world, but a first-year learner like me, that song was just hard enough that I had to learn something, perfect something I hadn’t quite done yet. Being able to pick notes back and forth on multiple strings, it hadn’t quite hit me yet. That song however, did it for me. And not only did it do it for me, I also got my first taste of a cool solo riff, one that I could play with a little as well, given that it takes off a blues scale, which no one’s ever used to go play a crazy improvised solo from.
A couple years down the road, I had a solid foundation going and was eager to really take that next step. But I didn’t quite know what it was. Around that same time, the Guitar Hero franchise was making it rounds. On the second game in the series, Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” was featured as one of the songs. Without that song, I wouldn’t have gotten the drive for wanting to play fast, thus I never would’ve taken an interest in punk and metal music, thus I’d probably still be listening to boring country music like I grew up with. That song destroys your wrist the first time you play it, on a guitar or a Guitar Hero controller. I was blown away how someone could play a song that fast, that long. Sure, the song’s only 2 minutes long, and I hadn’t become aware of bands like Slayer yet, but at 15 or 16 years old, that blew my freaking mind!
Taking those two songs in particular, it ultimately shaped me into the musician I turned into at the tail end of high school and eventually molding into the…well…sort of polished musician I am now. Without Pipeline, I don’t take an interest in improvisation and without Misirlou, holy freaking hell I don’t even know what direction I would’ve gone in without that song! It made me crave speed, look into genres of music I never would’ve listened to. Basically, Dick Dale is the reason that I have the music tastes that I like, and he’s the reason that I am still learning to play guitar 18 years since I started.
So farewell to the King of the Surf Guitar. You will be missed.