Dick Dale: at The Hut in Tucson, Arizona
Dick Dale at The Hut
Review by: Cerulean Ravenwing
It was a seasonably warm April night in the Sonoran Desert. The temperature hovered in the low 80s with a slight breeze blowing in off the Ironwood Mountains to the west. By the end of the night that low 80s temperature cranked up a few notches and the breeze no longer blew off the mountains. Now it raged out of the amps and sound system in The Hut, an appropriately named metal hut-cum-bar located on the artsy stretch of 4th Avenue in Tucson, Arizona. Those amps belonged to none other than Dick Dale. Still in full swing less than a month from his 75th birthday, Dick shreds better than anyone half his age.
April 6, 2012, brought the King of the Surf Guitar back to The Hut in Tucson. A year previously, he had left the same location triumphant, but without The Beast, his ubiquitous gold-fleck axe. Apparently one of the road crew had inadvertently left The Beast behind and, when Dick realized it, they had to go back to retrieve it. This day, however, is another year and, if forced to speculate, it’s another year without the crewman who was so sacrilegious as to forget such a holy relic.
This day would see four opening bands performing in the metal building reposing behind the largest Moai head in North America a little trivia fact that’s befitting the man who would be sending out huge, shredding waves of reverb into the night. Two of the opening bands were graced with great luck to have been chosen as opening acts for Dick. The other two were exceptional throwbacks to real Rock ‘n’ Roll from the 1950s.
The last time I’d seen Dick strut his stuff was over a decade ago, back in a tiny brewpub in Eugene, Oregon, called The Wild Duck. At the time I was completely blown away by a man I had grown up listening to. His incredible talent, raw magnetism and rare ability to connect with every member of the audience called to me more than any act I’d ever seen. Would the King of the Surf Guitar, the Father of Heavy Metal, the member of the Musicians Hall of Fame* and cancer survivor still be able to bring it like he did as a young kid on the beaches of Southern California? I was trembling in anticipation and, truth be told, a bit scared to find out. What if Dick had lost a step? What if he couldn’t bring it like before? What if the cancer had taken such a toll he would be relegated to just sit there and, once in a great while, play his axe for a couple of bars, then let his band take over and carry the night? So many what-ifs were coursing through my mind, and all of them left me feeling sad, worried and, yes, scared.
Fortunately, all of my what-ifs were unfounded. There was a spike of dread when Dick mounted the stairs onto the stage, but that spike rapidly disappeared when he assaulted my ears with a thunderous glissando that echoed beautifully throughout The Hut. Dick immediately segued out of that glissando into "Nitro", one of his best-known works. Then, for the next 90 minutes, he regaled the audience with a medley. No song played in its entirety, no stone left unturned because, according to the King, people get tired of hearing the same thing all the time and we all need something new. Everything from "Ghost Riders (in the Sky)" to "Miserlou" to "The Wedge" poured out of the speakers. We were treated to songs people don’t usually associate with Dick such as "Folsom Prison Blues". Dick rocked it in his own tribute to Johnny Cash, complete with a story about how he used to play with The Man in Black BEFORE he was The Man in Black. Greats like "House of the Rising Sun" also issued forth. The whole time Dick kept up a patter with the audience, telling a story throughout, poking fun at some people and responding to shout-outs from other people. His fans joined the show, including yours truly who, when Dick made a comment about being old, hollered out, "You don’t look a day over 40, Dick!" With a wit as fast as his picking, he shot back, "Thanks for that, give me a new body and then we’ll talk!" Dick Dale definitely hadn’t lost his ability to keep an audience engaged.
What struck me the most, though, was not only how Dick still has the mythical "IT" that makes him, hands-down, the greatest surf guitarist the world’s ever seen, but how incredibly talented his son, Jimmy, is. Oh, did I forget to mention Jimmy is Dick’s drummer? My bad. Being a musician myself, I appreciate how difficult it is to play for 90 minutes, non-stop, at such a highly frenetic pace. What sets Jimmy apart is his ability to completely shift gears on a dime, without prompting or notice. Dick would be jamming out on something running around 160 beats per minute then, without warning, shift into "House of the Rising Sun" at a relatively sedate 80 beats per minute. In less than a second Jimmy would pick it up and not only switch tempo but also his sticking. The transition was almost completely seamless and, if you didn’t know how to recognize what was going on, you might not have picked it up. In fact, Jimmy is so good at this the only way I was able to completely catch the fact it wasn’t staged was when Jimmy, at one point, looked right at Dick and said, "What in the hell are you doing now?" I could see the slight confusion on his face, but he still didn’t miss a beat.
In all, at the end of the 90 minutes, it felt like a couple of seconds is all that had passed. The pure, raw power flowing out of not only the speakers and amps, but out of Dick himself, grabbed hold and refused to let go even though the sound guy from The Hut refused to listen to Dick every time he yelled to turn the volume up. Hopefully next time this guy will listen to Dick, realizing that the King knows best. Even at the age of 74, Dick still has what it takes to control an audience and make us all his puppets.
It was a memorable April night in Tucson, with a temperature that started in the low 80s but, courtesy of Dick Dale, ended up a lot hotter. I can’t wait until next year when, according to Jimmy, they’ll be back in town. I’ll definitely be right there, front and center, letting the waves of Dick’s (and Jimmy’s!) greatness wash over me.
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On a side note: Jimmy arrived hours early and just sort of hung out at The Hut. I talked to him for a bit and he agreed to have his picture taken with my better half. He’s a genuinely nice guy, just like his father, and you can easily tell he appreciates the fans. Father and son are both a class act and are not to be missed if they come through your neck of the woods. It’s definitely worth the cost of a ticket. Do NOT miss your chance to see a living legend live. If you go, you won’t be sorry - but if you don’t go, you will regret it and, as Dick would tell you, life is too short for regrets!
* When told some of us are still pressuring the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame or Shame, depending on who you ask to induct him, Dick looked me straight in the eyes and said, "I don’t care about them. I’m in the REAL DEAL." We shared a laugh about it and I congratulated him knowing that, once again, The King of the Surf Guitar had come through.
Cerulean Ravenwing is a freelance event reporter who will go just about anywhere, anytime, for a free good time.
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