Dick Dale

Tribal Thunder

by Barbara Flaska


"In the green room with Dick Dale"

Dick Dale is taking the big drop and he goes dancing across the waves, some of them the size of mountains. Here it is thundering like Waimea when it’s closing out, or just ripping like the fastest break at Haleiwa.

There’s enough on this album to give you an idea of the vast range of expression when dealing with something as big and primal as the ocean. There’s enough traditionally styled roaring surf tunes like “The New Victor,” “Shredded Heat,” and “The Eliminator” to remind you to be respectful of such raw, elemental, surging power. But you can have a lot of fun playing at the edges where the waves come crashing in. You catch this when Dick pushes into a sweeping drop and cuts across into the swaying meters of “Caravan,” Duke Kahanamoku meets Duke Ellington on a glorious day of sand and surf. “Esperanza” is a funny and carefree song that just presumes having a good time.

cover art

Dick Dale

Tribal Thunder

US: 27 May 1993

Waves break on the shore, pounding out a message that every surfer hears, understands, and responds to by moving towards the waves. The ocean’s drums call us there, like the drums that call people to a tribal gathering. The drums pounding out their powerful message to people who have the same understanding, the rhythms breaking like big waves, and that stratocaster shakes the environment like heavy equipment moving through the “Caterpillar Crawl,” one of the original surfer’s stomps. That one song is so strong you start thinking it might shock an earthquake to life, and sure enough, here is the biggest version of “Rumble” that’s ever detonated a Richters.

Like the ocean, the music is ever-changing in temperament. The last song is the surprise wave at the end of the set, “Surfing Drums” is back as “Tribal Thunder.” The dreamy, gentle shift into Middle Eastern stylings is like a perfect close to a good day surfing. Just right for standing with arms crossed watching the sun sink into ocean at the day’s end, knowing that the ocean will continue to make those perfectly formed waves, one perfect wave after the other.

These are bright waters, the record brought into being by an interesting mix of souls—my surf guitar hero Dick Dale, my new surf drum hero Scott Mathews (aided on percussion and drums by taiko drum warrior, the Prairie Prince) and my literary hero Joel Selvin as co-producer. As a writer, Joel Selvin has a genius for getting to the heart of what’s real in music and when he does he always sees the human spirit that makes it. Seems right that he’s here with Dick Dale. Dick Dale said this was the first time in his recordings that he was able to have complete control over the way “the beast” (his Fender Strat guitar) was captured. Before, the engineers could not stop the sound of “the beast” from bleeding throughout the recording soundboard without putting limiters and suppressors on the guitar sound. Now, he says he has found the secret how to record the full fat sounds of his Strat.

Surf music to me is a distinctly American music. I can pinpoint its birth if not quite to the day, then certainly to the pre-PABA era when the fifties broke on the shores of the sixties, and to the place, where the Pacific Ocean rolls up against the edges of Southern Californian cliffs and coasts. When you listen to this record, you will hear where this music was taken when it later mixed with the waters of that Bagdad by the Bay and became psychedelicized. Here, it is what it essentially is. Surfers hear his music as wave-like.

Dick Dale’s music can communicate understanding, respect, and love for the nature of which we are a part, the earth, the waves, the water, and all things precious to people everywhere in the world. He can be revered as an elder statesman of the tribe but his message is universal.

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