Dick Dale, the surf rock pioneer who took reverb to new levels, died on Saturday night. He was 81. The guitarist's health had declined over the past 20 years due to a number of illnesses, including diabetes, kidney disease and rectal cancer. The news was confirmed to NPR by Dusty Watson, a drummer who worked and toured with Dale between 1995 and 2006, who says he spoke with Dale's wife, Lana Dale. No cause was given.
Dale, born Richard Anthony Monsour in 1937, changed the sound of rock and roll in the early 1960s when he upped the reverb on his guitar and applied the Arabic scales of his father's native Lebanon. Born and originally raised in Massachusetts, he found his aesthetic when his family moved to Orange County, California in 1954—where he took up surfing.
His high-energy interpretation of an old song from Asia Minor, "Misirlou" (Egyptian Girl), became the most famous song of surf rock: He had learned the tune from his Lebanese uncles, who played it on the oud.
"I started playing it," Dale, who had started out as a drummer, told NPR in a 2010 interview, "and I said, 'Oh no, that's too slow.' And I thought of Gene Krupa's drumming, his staccato drumming... When we went to California, I got my first guitar, but I was using this rocket-attack, Gene Krupa rhythm on the guitar."