Surf guitar king Dick Dale celebrates 50 years in music with Fullerton College benefit concert

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Steven Cuevas/KPCC

The King of Surf Guitar, Dick Dale, at his desert ranch near Joshua Tree. The 73-year old musician is back with a new greatest hits collection and is about to kick off his 'Electric Acoustic' tour.

"The King of the Surf Guitar" Dick Dale celebrates 50 years in rock and roll Thursday with a performance at Fullerton’s Plummer Auditorium. Proceeds from the concert benefit Fullerton College. The show won’t be far from where Dale pioneered his signature guitar rumble.

In 1961 a Dick Dale show could draw 4,000 people to the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa. Life magazine dubbed him “Pied Piper" of teenagers. The kids called him “King of the Surf Guitar.”

“They yelled at me, 'you’re the king!'" says Dale. "'You’re the king of the surf, man!'”

For this Lebanese surfer kid from Boston, the trademark staccato riffing was the sonic equivalent of dropping into the pipeline of a monster wave.

“And at the same time, I was raising 40 different exotic animals,” recalls Dale. “So when my mountain lion, he’d go, 'Waaah!' Like that. I’d imitate that on my guitar. They were matching the sounds of what you go through when on a 15-foot wave!”

Today Dale lives miles from the ocean, on a secluded ranch near Joshua Tree. In an interview with KPCC last year, the 74-year-old guitar shredder spoke about his music and a life that at times has been as rough as the wildest surf – cancer, bankruptcy and a meteoric career resurgence in the mid-1990s, thanks in part to the championing of director Quentin Tarantino, who used the Dick Dale and the Del-Tones smash “Miserlou” in the film “Pulp Fiction” to propulsive effect.

“You just keep the faith,” says Dale, a strict vegetarian and martial arts expert.

“That’s what I do with this cancer I’ve been dealing with since 2008," says Dale. It's his second bout with the diseasee. "And so now they call me 'Dick Dale the Cancer Warrior.' I will play that guitar until I blow up on stage, and so I’m doing it!”

At this week’s Plummer Auditorium concert he’ll do it with an assist from the Fullerton College Orchestra, in the town where he spent some of his formative years.

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