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Mrs. Skippy and I were privileged to see a concert by Dick Dale at the Redondo Beach Lobster Festival this weekend. Mrs. Skippy had wanted to go for the lobster; I knew from posters around town that Dick Dale, King of Surf Guitars, was playing there. So we showed up Saturday night, cracked open a couple of delicious crustaceans from Maine and stood around in the misty weather by the beach waiting, with a crowd of about 300, to hear the man who taught surfers how the guitar should be played.

Dick Dale, for those of you under 30, is the guy who played the theme song from Pulp Fiction, “Misirlou.” Even if you can’t place that in your mind, once you hear his signature rapid staccato on his electric guitar, you’ll recognize him. Dick’s fingers move on his instrument faster than anybody else’s, before or since. Where most people will pick the note once and let it reverberate, Dick will churn out 8 rapid plucks in a row. There’s no room for half- or eighth-notes in Dick’s oeuvre; thirty-second notes are his mainstay.

Accompanied only by a bass guitarist and a drummer, Dick took the stage amidst the audience’s catcalls of “Dick Dale! Dick Dale! Dick Dale!” The trio opened with a loud, rockin’ semi-improvised number, which this reviewer did not recognize. Dick then introduced the next piece, called “Eliminator,” from his new album, Spacial Disorientation. Mrs. Skippy, who likes to study interior design, chuckled at the title of the album. I myself, just rocked out, along with the rest of the mostly over-50 crowd. The next song, “Eliminator,” had a recurring line sounded like “Satisfaction” turned on its head, and Dick took it and ran with it, wailing all over the stage, recalling some of the heavier heavy metal sounds from the 80’s. Then after that, they went into a dense and fast rendition of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

Through the set, Dick and his boys took us into the strange rock and roll milieu that lies halfway between psychedelia and the blues, with the decibels turned up to 11 and more reverb than God talking to Charlton Heston. Every number was played with Dick’s signature pizzicato sliding down, triplet by triplet, the high end of the register, turning out more individual notes than Mozart used to bore Joseph II. There were bits reminiscent of Jimi Hendricks here, Faith No More there; some Stone Temple Pilots over here, BB King over there; and even Louie Armstrong thrown in for good measure (trumpet included).

The man, who has got to be in his 60’s by now, showed an amazing amount of energy that would put Britney Spears’ back-up dancers to shame. He was running all around the stage, flirting with the audience, figuratively dueling (or else making love) with his bass player, having what looked like the time of his life. One audience member behind me remarked “I wouldn’t have that much energy at that age if I was running.”

At one point in the middle of “Bo Diddley” (which started out as “Hava Nagilia”) Dick put his guitar down, picked up some drum sticks, and helped his drummer out with the drum solo, banging the skins with the same enthusiasm that he bangs his guitar strings. Then he walked back around to Tommy, his bass player, who held the bass guitar up to Dick. Dick used the drum sticks to bang out the notes on the bass, with Tommy fingering the chords on the fret. But he wasn’t finished yet, folks. As Dick picked his own guitar back up, the tune segued into a rockin’ blues number, with Dick singing the recurring line “I got my fingers on you, Mama, better do what Daddy says.” At one point he then took out the aforementioned trumpet and played it with Satchmo-like raunch, singing the refrain in between the lines of melody.

Of course, early in the concert he played “Misirlou,” the theme from Pulp Fiction, at which point the entire crowd suddenly realized they knew who he was, and let him know they knew with a roar. There was an especially loud contingent of people (again, over 50) down front, who apparently follow him from concert to concert, a la the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads. Dick proudly pointed them out as the Dickheads, to which they all cheered. Somehow he seemed to inspire the crowd into an energetic teen-age rapture. Everywhere we looked there were huge pockets of folks over 50 dancing like Uma Thurman and John Travolta. That in itself was worth the price of admission, although it made it hard to keep the lobster down.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Skippy and me, the rain really started to drizzle on us, just as Dick’s 10 year old son Jimmy came on stage with his Stratocaster to play his own rendition of “Misirlou.” The Skippys decided to call it a night, and headed back to find the car in the parking lot. As we drove out, heading back to L.A., the sounds of Dick Dale accompanying his son on the theme from Pulp Fiction wafted through the night, reminding us how surreal reality is.

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  • Eric Olsen

    Nice one Skipper – made me feel like home down by the Redondo pier (right after it burned down again). And Dick is a force of nature.

  • Great piece, skippy. I was transformed to an evening dancing surfside. Although my eggplant parmesan for dinner tonight pales beside that yummy lobster you celebrated.

  • Good job capturing a Dick Dale show in words. Got to see him one time in a small club in Florida, SRO, and when he cranked up that “goes to 11 with God talking to Charleton Heston reverb” it was, well, just awesome. It body slammed you against the back walls of the joint.