The Beach Boys Remember Dick Dale: 'He Was Part of a Whole Other Category'

Dick Dale
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dick Dale poses for a portrait session playing piano in at the Capitol Records building in circa 1962 in Los Angeles. 

Dick Dale came into the Beach Boys’ lives as a hard-edged renegade -- but with a soft spot for the band he most influenced. When Beach Boy Bruce Johnston first shared the stage with him in the backup band Kip Tyler and the Flips, at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in 1959, he realized that even rock originals have their beginnings -- and their boosters.

To hear Johnston tell it, Dale was still trying to cut it in the music industry -- and hadn’t yet found himself. “He was still a greaser, an Elvis guy,” he describes to Billboard. Dale’s father, James Monsour, cheered him on from the sixth row. Dale would go on to hone his searing, sea-misted guitar style -- and push Johnston’s band out into the waves.

As the Beach Boys grew in estimation, they relied on Dale when they hadn’t yet cut their songwriting teeth. “Carl and I enjoyed playing ‘Misirlou,’ ‘Let's Go Trippin'’ and other classics when we didn't have enough songs to fill out a set,” said Al Jardine in a Facebook tribute. “RIP, Dick. You’ll always be the King of the Surf Guitar.”

He’s right: Carl’s lead guitar was a big facet of what made early Beach Boys shine -- and it wouldn’t have been much without Dale. “The two obvious guitar influencers were Dale and Chuck Berry,” honorary Beach Boy Billy Hinsche (who made cameos on albums like Holland, 15 Big Ones and L.A. (Light Album) and appeared live with the band in the 1970s) explains to Billboard. “Dale was part of a whole other category.”

Mike Love, too, is unequivocal about his admiration for Dale. “We were lucky enough to share some of the same venues as Dick,” he tells Billboard, referring to the surf legend’s classic appearances at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Orange County. “Then, several years ago, we had the pleasure of reconnecting. He was a groundbreaking artist and was always so kind and generous to us.”

Dale may have had a vaunted place in the guitar world, but it didn’t give him a clichéd rock-star ego. Instead, Hinsche remembered a “personal, humble and sincere” man who felt a deep kinship with America’s Band. “He had a soft spot in his heart for them,” he recalls. “He [still] called them ‘kids’ from when he knew them originally.”

Brian Wilson, who was unavailable for comment, agreed with Jardine in a public statement. “Dick’s guitar playing was a big influence on all of us,” he posted on social media, citing their cover of “Miserlou” on 1963’s Surfin’ USA.

As both Dale and the Beach Boys hit their third act in the 1990s, he related to them on a deeper level -- both Dale and Carl Wilson were battling cancer at the time. “He himself was suffering,” says Hinsche. “But he was living his life in spite of the cancer.”

Through their shared adversity, Carl wasn’t just a “kid” to Dale; their common adversity bonded them beyond music. “He had such a love and admiration and a fondness for Carl, and the other guys as well,” says Hinsche. Wilson passed away of lung cancer in 1998; Dale lived with his illness until 2019.

The Beach Boys took Dale’s sound and rode it into stardom -- which only made his influence ripple to the ends of the earth. And by the telling of Wilson, Hinsche, Jardine, Love and Johnston, they couldn’t have picked a kinder surf-rock guru to emulate.