Punk rock band
Amidst the late 1990s resurgence of ska and hardcore punk music, the Boston, Massachusetts, band Dropkick Murphys made a name for itself with its Irish influenced brand of Oi! punk anthems. The hard-working, heavy-touring Irish-American punk band have been known to occasionally play traditional Irish drinking songs along with their original songs about working class stiffs during their live shows. Band members say this blend of blue-collar punk music attracts a diverse fan base, from the latest generation of punk fans to their Irish grandparents.
The band formed on a lark in 1996 in the basement of a Boston barbershop. “We’d joked about it ’cos of us, me and Mike [McColgan] had never been in a band before and didn’t know how to play,” said bassist-songwriter Ken Casey. “The other two guys [Rick Barton and Bill Close] humored us and showed us a few things, and it developed quicker than we’d planned. We soon went from just playing some covers in a basement to touring.”
Dropkick Murphys went through several drummers in their early days including Bill Close, their original drummer, and Jeff “The Shark” Erner, who played on the band’s first recordings, the last of which was Boys on the Docks. Matt Kelly joined the band after a two-song audition just as the band began touring and recording. Casey told the Boston Globe in 1999, “The first gig, I’d been playing three weeks. But what we run on is the fire in our bellies. If it’s more about music and less about the passion, that’s when no one wants to listen to you anymore and that’s what happens to a lot of old punk bands.”
Constantly touring, Dropkick Murphys quickly gained a reputation as true road warriors. Although they were first known only within the confines of their home state of Massachusetts, the band earned greater widespread popularity and attention through nearly three years of non-stop touring. Froml 997-99 Dropkick Murphys toured with numerous popular punk and ska bands including The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Swingin’ Utters, Agnostic Front, The Working Stiffs and U.S. Bombs.
In the true spirit of the punk do-it-yourself ethos, the group recorded and released several seven-inch singles, many of them on their own Flat Records label. Flat Records has also recorded several seven-inch split recordsone record featuring two different groupsby other punk groups including The Cuffs, Vigilantes, Pressure Point and Terminus City. Dropkick Murphys also recorded for other labels including GMM Records, Pogo Records and TKO Records.
In 1997 Dropkick Murphys signed with Hellcat Records, the label owned by Tim Armstrong of the punk band Rancid. Lars Frederiksen, also of Rancid, first heard the band’s EP Boys on the Docks at a friend’s house, and immediately told Armstrong of his new discovery. Upon hearing that EP Armstrong quickly signed Dropkick Murphys to his label and included one of the band’s songs on the Hellcat compilation Give ‘Em the Boot. The band followed that up with two full length releases of their own on Hellcat, Do or Die in 1998 and The Gang’s All Here in 1999.
Casey said that although the success of Do or Die might have surprised some critics, it was no surprise to Dropkick Murphys, “because we laid the groundwork prior to the album and, when it came out, toured nonstop.” It was at the end of the tour supporting Do or Die that singer McColgan decided to leave the band, citing the band’s incessant touring as the main reason. Al Barr, a friend of the band, was the remaining members’ first and only choice to replace McColgan. Barr joined as the band began recording The Gang’s All Here.
The hectic tour schedule that led to McColgen’s departure also led to an ever growing following for the band. Among the devoted was Bikinis J.R. Griffin, who called Dropkick Murphys “a wised-up handful of Irish-descended street thugs who grew up under the cloud of lower middle class blue collar drudgery, listened to The Business and Gang Green (and are pissed off about having
Members include Al Barr , vocals (joined, 1998); Rick Barton , guitar and vocals; Ken Casey , bass and songwriter; Bill Close , drums (1996-97); Jeff “The Shark” Erner , drums (1997-98); Matt Kelly , drums (joined, 1998); Mike McColgan , vocals (1996-98).
Formed in Boston, MA, 1996; known for tireless touring; released numerous seven-inch records on a variety of labels including their own Flat Records, 1996-97; signed with Hellcat Records, 1997; released Do or Die, 1998; McColgan replaced by Barr, 1998; released The Gang’s All Here, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Hellcat Records, 2799 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026.
to shovel too much snow), and who decided to do something other than swing away at life and miss. Combining what they know bestl rish drinking tales and hardcore Oi! musicthey drop tales of union strife, skinhead unity, and camaraderie with tight hardcore pumpers complete with side blows of tin whistles and bagpipes.”
The Dropkick Murphys’ music can best be described as a combination of 1977 era punk rock, Irish folk songs and “old-fashion working class rock ’n’ roll,” according to Hellcat Records publicity materials. The band is well known for its Irish sing-along pub tunes. Said Casey in an interview in Lollipop Magazine, “I think that’s what we’ve gotten the most notoriety for because the style isn’t heard too often. That part of us just comes out without us trying, those are the songs that just happen. The other songs we have to try to write. People say they want more of those songs, but on the other hand, we don’t want to become cliche and play one specific style. We’re a punk band, but out roots are in Irish folk.”
The band’s main influence is the punk band Stiff Little Fingers, although there are some similarities to the Ramones, the Pogues, and the Clash as well. They even have acknowledged throwing in a little AC/DC. “We wear our influences on our sleeve,” Casey told the Boston Globe, “but we very much have our own agenda.” That agenda is, in part, one that supports the blue-collar working man. Casey’s grandfather was a union man whose story is told in “Boys on the Docks.” The cover art for that EP is of his co-workers. Casey says his grandfather “organized most of the union workers down on the fish pier.”
The members of Dropkick Murphys see their music as a sort of payback to their working class roots. Casey told Bikinis Griffin, “In a way, I don’t feel like a musician. I feel like we’re carrying a torch for the working class. Maybe we’re playing music, but we’re like the spokes-people for a whole group of people. I feel like we’re doing more for our type of people with this music that we could ever do working a nine-to-five.”
Boys on the Docks (EP), Cyclone Records, 1998.
Do or Die, Hellcat Records, 1998.
The Gang’s All Here, Hellcat Records, 1999
Boston Globe, March 14, 1999.
Rolling Stone, April 1, 1999.
Washington Post, February 27, 1998.
Additional source material provided by Hellcat Records publicity materials.
—Linda Dailey Paulson
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