WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- How rock 'n' roll is Dick Dale? He pioneered surf rock and its unmistakable California sound, even though he was born in Massachusetts and based that sound on music from even further east -- the Middle East.
At 76, he's still touring.
What's more, "I'm supposed to be dead."
Don't believe him?
"I'm in renal failure right now," Mr. Dale, whose jangly, powerful version of the traditional Eastern folk song "Misirlou" is a classic that's been used in everything from "Pulp Fiction" to the Black Eyed Peas' "Pump It," insists from his West Coast home.
"I don't wanna go anywhere. I want to watch the Discovery Channel and play with my airplanes and listen to movies. But it takes money to exist, and I have to raise $3,000 a month if I want to stay alive."
Touring to cheat death? Yeah, that's a rock song. A rock opera, maybe.
Mr. Dale credits his survival to holistic medicine and to his wife, Lana, who shares his passion for healthy living and for animal causes. When fans see him "they're seeing me without taking drugs. Pain pills retard healing. Lana took care of me -- She's saved my life three times. There are about 15 things going on with me that are not supposed to be. I had cancer. I have diabetes. She has health problems, too. We're a couple of sickies taking care of each other."
Still, he's out there playing what he calls "Dick Dale music," which comes out of his love of the waves, if not initially the kind you surf on. Mr. Dale recalls growing up in Massachusetts "always by the water. It was only four houses down, off a cliff. We were always swimming and playing."
The jangly Fender chords that would come to typify his music were a ways off. Mr. Dale's first foray into music was country, idolizing people like Hank Williams. He also picked up several instruments, including piano and trumpet.
But Mr. Dale's future would be on the guitar, honing his skills on "this old junky one" he had until he met guitar and amp giant Leo Fender.
"He gave me a Stratocaster and said, 'Tell me what you think of it,' " says Mr. Dale, a left-handed player who promptly turned the instrument upside down and backward. He says he decided he wanted a sound that was not only melodic but percussive, "like Gene Krupa's drums. I used these heavy gauge strings -- they called them telephone wires -- to create a fatness of sound."
"Mirsilou," his signature hit, also explores the sounds of Arabic music that Mr. Dale, who is of Lebanese descent, grew up with. That song and its subsequent samples have brought recognition to its creator, helping it go triple platinum. In 2009, he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn., and is also a member of the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, Calif.
He's proud of his work, but he's not sentimental about it.
"You might call me ungrateful, but I don't think a lot about [his legacy]. I live for this moment," he says. "I could hang up the phone and could drop dead. So I do think about yesterday. It's gone. It's been used, good or bad."