A few days ago, a friend told me she’d got the news that Dick Dale (King of the Surf Guitar) was in a serious fight with colon cancer, which had attacked him back in the 1960s and changed his life (he became a vegetarian, an environmental activist, and a man who lives in the moment). Dick retired from performing for a time, but got back into it during the 1980s. When Quentin Tarantino prominently featured DD’s famous “Misirlou” instrumental in his 1994 film, Pulp Fiction, Dick Dale was once again elevated into public consciousness.
Now this news, was it true? I emailed Dick to see how he was doing, and on New Year’s eve I got this email from his home in the Southern California desert:
“It is rectal cancer, a large tumor. No touring for a while. I have to undergo 6 weeks of chemotherapy, along with 6 weeks of radiation together. Then I rest and heal for 6 weeks. Then they will cut out the tumor. I will have chemo afterwards to finish up. Then I will kick back and heal. Then I will change the tires and get back on the road. Ha! Keep smiling.”
And then he added: “I will play tonight at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, with my son Jimmy.”
This would be Dick Dale’s last concert before commencing his battle with the cancer. I checked back a couple of days later to see how it went. “The place was packed to the walls,” he told me. “A dozen firefighters lined the wall through the whole concert. Jimmy brought the house to a standing ovation while he did a Gene Krupa-type drum solo with my drummer, Bryan. Then Jimmy matched me note for note, duelling guitars throughout the night. [It was] the best New Year’s ever… plus I made it through the night without calling 911… and no one was the wiser!”
Dick’s looking forward to getting through this process and back on the road. He’s not about quitting. “I keep going because I was put here to give lift to others going through the same situation,” he says. “Keep smiling!”
To contact Dick with your messages or offers of assistance (he has bills), check out his website: www.dickdale.com
Words by Drew Kampion