20 Things You Didn’t Know about the Dropkick Murphys
Celtic punk rockers the Dropkick Murphys are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. Feel old yet?
In honor of their big milestone, we chatted with frontman Ken Casey (and did a little research) to dig up some little-known facts about the beloved Boston band.
Check out these 20 facts you might not have known about the Dropkick Murphys.
1. The Dropkick Murphys Played Its First Show on a Dare
The band pretty much came together by accident. One day, a kid who worked with Casey said to him, “You’re always talking about starting a band. My band has a show in three weeks, I dare you to open for us.” Casey jumped on the chance to win a cool $20 and replied “Alright, you’ve got a bet.” After gathering his friends, Casey and his crew wrote two songs and learned about six covers for the gig. As Casey explains, “We played a thirty minute set and the rest was history.”
2. Casey Didn’t Know How to Play an Instrument Before Starting the Band
In addition to having zero experience working in a band, Casey didn’t even know how to play an instrument before accepting the dare. The frontman, though, did have some involvement in the punk scene, as he used to work at the legendary punk club the Rat booking shows. “I just didn’t play an instrument, never thought I would,” Casey says. “Actually, I was working construction and going to UMass Boston and bartending at night.” Casey added that he once got heckled by stagehands for taping notes to his instrument during a show at a 6,000 seat venue while opening for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. “That was the beauty of it,” Casey says. “We were the Bad News Bears, stumbling our way through it.”
3. The Name Came from a Local Wrestler
The name Dropkick Murphys came from the nickname given to Massachusetts-born professional wrestler and sanatorium owner John E. “Dropkick” Murphy. In addition to his work in the ring, Murphy operated the Bellows Farms Sanatorium in Acton, which Casey calls a “primitive detox” center. “When fighters or people would be out drinking, he would give them paraldehyde or horse tranquilizers and help them taper down,” Casey says. “I always heard old guys my grandfather’s age say, ‘Oh, I was in Dropkicks,’ or ‘They took me to Dropkick Murphys.’ We were just like, ‘That’d be a cool name for a band.’”
4. The Band Used to Press Their Own 45s
Before making it big, the Dropkick Murphys used to press their own 45 RPM records and even started their own label called Flat Records. “I think that might’ve been some of the charm to it,” Casey says. “We weren’t really trying to make it then. We just did everything ourselves.”
5. Their First Big Break Was Opening for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
In 1997, the band received its first big break courtesy of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. “We were just all friends of them from before we even started the band,” Casey says. “They went on a huge, six-week U.S. tour and maybe an eight-week European tour. They brought us on both.” Things got a bit rowdy during their trips on the road. While the Bosstones were asleep in their hotel rooms, Casey and the rest of the Dropkicks would sneak onto their fellow Boston rockers’ tour bus to crash. “We had figured out what the code was to their bus,” Casey says. “They’d have to chase us off in the morning. It was a lot of laughs.”
6. Mayor Thomas Menino Once Banned Them from Playing on St. Patrick’s Day
If you can believe it, the Dropkick Murphys were briefly banned from playing on St. Patrick’s Day after a few of their underage fans snuck into the Rat for the band’s first ever show on the holiday back in the late ’90s. “It kind of got out of control,” Casey says. “We got barred from playing in the city on St. Patrick’s Day. That was a Mayor Menino call.” There weren’t any hard feelings, though, as Casey adds, “Back then, we probably took it more as a badge of honor then anything.”
7. St. Patrick’s Day Shows Became a Boston Tradition by Luck
After being barred from playing in Boston, the group spent the next few St. Patrick’s Days as the opening act for shows in cities like Seattle and New York. The Dropkicks didn’t play a St. Patrick’s Day show in Boston until 2001, when their tour just happened to come to town. “We just did one show at the old Avalon and it went great,” Casey says. “People seemed to be intrigued by the fact that Dropkicks played on St. Patrick’s Day.” The chance booking snowballed into an annual affair as the band added more and more shows to their holiday lineup. “I think we got up to doing like eight or nine shows one year,” Casey says.
8. Casey Almost Threw Up on Matt Lauer in Boston
When the Today show came to Boston one year, they had the Dropkick Murphys on to perform. While it was a huge honor, Casey admits he was suffering from the flu that day and almost puked on host Matt Lauer. “It probably would’ve been the best thing to have happened to the band,” Casey jokes. “We would’ve gone viral a thousand times over and then he would’ve gone viral too.”
9. The Band Used to Let Hundreds of Family Members and Friends on Stage…
Back in the day, all of the band members used to let their family and friends come on stage during their show—all two hundred of them. “You might have a two-year-old daughter stand on stage, you might have my grandmother in her 80s and everyone in the middle,” Casey says. “They were literally having your back.” Eventually, they had to stop the tradition because too many random people would try to sneak on stage, claiming to be an aunt or someone’s mother.
10. …Which Led to the Pawtucket Fireworks Fiasco
Another reason why they stopped letting family and friends on stage was because of a mishap that happened during a show at the Pawtucket Red Sox’s stadium. The band was given $5,000 worth of fireworks to set off at the end of the show, but something went awry and the pyrotechnics never went off. “We asked the manager what happened and he said, ‘One of your idiot friends kicked the plug out before they hit the button,’” Casey says. “That’s kind of what ended people on the stage. We sat there all night in the Pawtucket Red Sox stadium setting off fireworks.”
11. ‘I’m Shipping Up to Boston’ Was Based on Unfinished Lyrics by Woody Guthrie
The lyrics for the band’s biggest hit, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, actually came from an unfinished work by folk legend Woody Guthrie. The singer’s grandson was a big fan of the Dropkicks, which inspired his mother to reach out to Casey. The frontman got a chance to take a look at Guthrie’s archives and just happened to come across the Boston-themed lyrics.”It’s kind of ironic, I mean, it said ‘Shipping up to Boston,’ which caught my eye of all the songs,” Casey told Boston.com last year. Following its inclusion in the Academy Award-winning film The Departed, the song became the band’s first and only Platinum-selling single.
12. Over a Dozen People Have Been Members of the Band
The Dropkicks have featured 14 different musicians over the years. Originally, it consisted of Casey, Mike McColgan, Rick Barton, and Jeff Erna. The current lineup includes Casey, Al Barr, Tim Brennan, Jeff DaRosa, Matt Kelly, and James Lynch.
13. The Dropkicks Wrote ‘Pipebomb on Landsdowne’ because of Their Hatred for the Street
The song “Pipebomb on Landsdowne,” featured on the 1999 album The Gang’s All Here, was written because the band couldn’t stand most of the venues on the street back in the day. “It was just a joke song,” Casey says. “We used to despise the whole Landsdowne Street.” However, once the old Avalon started doing live music, they eventually came around after doing a few shows at the venue.
14. They Played the Last Show Ever at the Avalon
Speaking of the Avalon, the Dropkicks played the last ever show there. It was a bittersweet moment for Casey and the band, as they thought of the spot as a second home. “We must’ve played 40 shows there or 50 shows there or more just because we would do so many nights in a row,” Casey says. He says that the House of Blues, which replaced the Avalon, feels like an extension of the now-defunct venue.
15. They Also Played the Final Show at the Beachcomber
Sadly, the Avalon wasn’t the only music venue that the band had the privilege of sending off. The band held a moment of silence during the last show over at the Beachcomber in Quincy.
16. They Once Got into a Twitter Beef with Scott Walker
Always protective of the working class, the Dropkicks were not pleased when Scott Walker, the famously anti-union Republican governor of Wisconsin, used “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” during the 2015 Iowa Freedom Summit. The band called out Walker via Twitter saying that they “literally hate” the politician.
— Dropkick Murphys (@DropkickMurphys) January 25, 2015
17. Casey’s Favorite Boston Music Venue of All Time Was the Rat
The Dropkicks have played pretty much every venue in and around Boston, but their favorite spot of all time has to be the Rat. “That’s the place that gave us our shot,” Casey says. “That’s what felt like our home.”
18. They Once Performed a Bruce Springsteen Song… for Bruce Springsteen
The band has played with Bruce Springsteen a few times over the years, but Casey’s favorite and most nerve-wracking moment with the Boss came before the Grammy Awards one year. Springsteen was being honored at a charity event in Los Angeles that featured a musical roast of sorts. The legendary musician invited them to come play one of his songs for him at the event. “That was freaky, because he’s not on stage with you,” Casey says. “He’s watching you do the song. That was probably the most nerve-wracking, intense thing.”
19. Casey Cringed over Jonathan Papelbon’s Walkouts at Fenway
Former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon would pump up fans at Fenway Park by walking out to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” However, Casey had mixed emotions over Papelbon’s use of the song. “I’m a Red Sox season ticket holder, the closer is coming out of the bullpen, and everyone is clapping, but like, I can’t clap along to it,” Casey told Boston.com. “It’s like a guy rocking out to his own song, you know what I mean? I’m crossing my arms awkwardly, have my hands in my pockets, so it’s cool and a bizarre feeling at the same time.”
20. Their Upcoming Album Will Be their First One Recorded away from Home
The Dropkicks are shipping up to El Paso, Texas to record their latest album, which will mark the first time that they’ve left home to do that. “We’ve never gone away to do an album, but with everyone having kids now, if you stay home all of a sudden one guy will go, ‘I got to run and take my kid to hockey’ and this and that,” Casey says. “Next thing you know a week’s gone by and you haven’t done anything.” The frontman says that the plan is to lock themselves in a studio 30 miles outside of El Paso in order to finish the record.