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updated: 7/11/2014 11:58 AM

Health issues don't keep surf-guitar king Dick Dale down

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  • Legendary guitarist Dick Dale, who invented the twangy "surf-guitar" sound, is making a stop in Palatine.

    Legendary guitarist Dick Dale, who invented the twangy "surf-guitar" sound, is making a stop in Palatine.

  • Video: "Misirlou" - Dick Dale


When surf-guitar master Dick Dale performs onstage these days, he makes it look easy. It isn't.

Dale has fought two battles against rectal cancer. He struggles with renal failure. And he endures the assorted aches and pains that are often part of life when one reaches 77 years old.

Despite all that, Dale continues to maintain an active touring schedule, playing guitar with the kind of passion seen in musicians half his age and younger. His current tour brings him to Durty Nellie's in Palatine next week.

Dale acknowledges that performing can be painful for him at times, but he said he has no plans to quit.

"I think I'll probably continue doing this till the day I die," Dale said during a recent phone interview from his home in California. "I'm not the type to die in a rocking chair with my beer belly hanging out. When my time comes, it will be in an explosion of music onstage."

Dale will have plenty of music history to mine for the crowd at Durty Nellie's -- he has been performing for more than 50 years. As a young musician he essentially created the twangy "surf-guitar" sound, which combined rapid-fire picking and a layer of reverb to create a "wet," echoey tone. (Interesting note: Dale, who's left-handed, plays with the strings arranged on the guitar the way they would be for a right-handed player, so in effect, he plays the guitar upside-down.)

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Dale's performances with his first band, the Del-Tones, were legendary, particularly in California, the home of surfer culture. But his audience grew, and he soon was appearing on national television programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show."

He maintained a lower profile in the 1970s, but the guitar sound he invented was popping up in a crop of young artists, from the Dead Kennedys to Chris Isaak. Dale's own career received an unexpected boost in the early 1990s, when his song "Misirlou" blasted behind the opening credits of Quentin Tarantino's landmark movie, "Pulp Fiction."

"I think that movie did help introduce me to some of the younger generation," Dale said. "It was one of those unexpected things. I'm grateful for it."

By then, he'd already been through one battle with cancer. Another would come, along with the renal failure.

"I really shouldn't be playing anymore!" he says with a laugh after going through his various health issues.

But play he will. Dale says his lifelong commitment to fitness and drug-free living have given him the energy and stamina he needs to keep going. His wife, Lana, meanwhile, provides him with mental and emotional support, he said.

"She never leaves my side," Dale said. "She's an angel from heaven."

Dale said he and Lana often stick around after shows to meet with fans and sign autographs. These moments can be among the most rewarding of all, he said.

"My fans know what Lana and I have been through, and they come and tell us all their problems," he said. "We talk to them, we laugh and swear. I think it helps, maybe in a small way. But that's important."

As for what fans can expect from his show in Palatine, Dale said it's hard to say.

"I never use a setlist," he said. "I try to read the audience, see what they're in the mood for.

"One thing I can guarantee, though: I will give my all. My philosophy is that on a scale of 1 to 10, I will go to 15. No matter what!"

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