Medical bills forced surf-rock legend Dick Dale to tour right up until the end
|Toronto Star 18 Mar 2019 at 10:31|
It was the mid-1960s and the rapid-fire sounds Dick Dale was pulling out of his gold-painted Fender Stratocaster had already reshaped popular music.
In the space of a few short years, the Boston-born, Southern California transplant (born Richard Anthony Monsour) had merged the laid-back, sun-blasted lifestyle of the surf scene with a blistering rhythm of rockabilly and early rock ‘n’ roll.
As the mad scientist behind what was dubbed “surf rock,” Dale was, in the words of a 1963 Life magazine profile, a “thumping teenage idol who is part evangelist, part Pied Piper and all success.” The music Dale and his band the Del-Tones made poured out of radios, sound-tracked popular beach movies starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and lit inspirational fires in other musicians like the Beach Boys. Fans crowned him “The King of the Surf Guitar.”
But Dale’s time in the spotlight came to a sudden end in 1965. That year, when he was only 28, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. He survived, but the cancer bout whittled Dale from 158 pounds to 98 pounds, and also drained his bank account of his pop star proceeds. He moved to Hawaii and stayed away from music for a number of years.
Dale died on Saturday night, his longtime drummer Dusty Watson confirmed. The guitarist was 81. No cause of death has been released.
Tributes have begun popping up online, with many celebrating his distinctive sound. But the musician’s life story was also a constant struggle against health problems and to pay medical bills. After his first cancer diagnosis in 1965, Dale continued to battle the disease. Up until the end of his life, Dale was explicit that he toured to fund his treatment.
“I can’t stop touring because I will die. Physically and literally, I will die,” he told the Pittsburgh City Paper in 2015.
After his near-death experience in the mid-1960s, Dale reinvented himself as a club owner in Southern California. But bad business decisions and a divorce eventually pulled his lifestyle out from under him. According to the Times magazine, Dale was evicted from his dream house in 1986.
The next year, when he recorded a version of “Pipeline” with Stevie Ray Vaughan that would earn a Grammy nomination, the guitarist was living in an RV parked in his parents’ driveway.
Dale’s career got an unexpected boost in 1994, when director Quentin Tarantino used his song “Misirlou” in the opening credits of his Academy Award-nominated film Pulp Fiction.
Twenty years after his first diagnosis, Dale’s rectal cancer returned. The second bout left him without parts of his stomach and intestines, and he was outfitted with a colostomy bag. The bag created problems for the left-handed player.
Dale continued grinding out concerts on the road despite his health problems — which also included diabetes, renal failure and vertebrae damage that made being onstage excruciatingly painful — because of medical bills. Touring was his only source of income.