Hank to Hendrix, via the beach

Can you spot the genius in this picture?


Hint: he can play a Stratocaster upside down. And, if this picture is any indication, apparently without electricity!

The picture features Candy Johnson, famous for her shimmy in the ridiculous Beach Party pictures of the early sixties. But that guy with the guitar in back of her is Dick Dale, also known as King of the Surf Guitar. As a lefty, he had to turn the Strat upside down to play it.

He was born in Boston, and went to high school in Quincy.  He started playing guitar as a kid, and, like virtually everyone who came after Hank Williams, Dale cited Hank as one of his early influences.

He moved with his family to the west coast after 11th grade, where he fell in love with surfing and wanted to make music that matched the sounds he heard in his head when he surfed. He quickly developed his own style, distinctive for its rapid-fire up-and-down staccato picking.

To get the heavily distorted, “thick” sound he wanted, he developed customized amps and pick-ups with Fender. He invented that instantly-recognizable “surf sound”, which had to be loud enough to be heard over the ocean. So he built the first-ever 100-watt amplifier.

Jimi Hendrix was also left handed, and that’s one of the reasons Dick Dale was an early influence on him. But the main thing was that Dale took the instrument to a new level, making it do things no one else had ever done, and creating a unique body of work that expressed who he was and what he felt. In other words, Dale created brilliant art – something Jimi understood well.

Dick Dale will be 80 years old in a couple of weeks, and he’s still going strong. Catch him if you can.


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