When director Martin Scorsese was looking for music to underscore pivotal scenes in his 2006 Oscar-winning film The Departed
, he turned to Boston's beloved Dropkick Murphys for the intensity and blue-collar grit he needed to match the street-smart acting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, and Boston natives Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon. The Celtic punk band's "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," with its spirited accordion/banjo riff and gruff vocals, featured prominently in the film and has since become somewhat synonymous with it.
Haven't seen The Departed
? Then perhaps you caught a Boston Red Sox game during the 2004 World Series. If so, chances are you heard Dropkick Murphys' "Tessie," a cover of an early 20th-century Broadway tune. The song's original recording had been the theme for the World Champion 1903 Red Sox team, and the Murphys' remake became the anthem of the "miracle" 2004 season.
Dropkick Murphys are an Irish American punk rock band out of Quincy, Massachusetts. They began in 1996 as a bunch of friends from working class and union households who were just hanging out, playing music in the basement of a local barbershop. Their goal at the time was to blend hardcore and street punk, Irish folk, and rock into a loud, raucous, chaotic, and often out of tune mix and come up with a sound that was uniquely their own. And that they did. "We were singing about real life stuff at a time when the standard 18-year-old punk rock message was 'F-authority' and 'F-the police'," says vocalist, bassist, and founding member Ken Casey.
The Murphys were a hit right out of the gate, most especially with fans from backgrounds similar to their own, and in places like Detroit, Michigan, where labor issues are a life and death struggle. They built a devoted following from constant touring and put out a few EPs before being signed to Hellcat Records and releasing their first full-length album, Do Or Die,
in 1998. Shortly thereafter, frontman Mike McColgan left the Murphys to pursue his lifelong dream of being a Boston firefighter. He was replaced by Al Barr from the New England street punk group, The Bruisers.
With Barr at the helm, the Murphys released The Gang's All Here
in 1999. The album featured more of a hardcore-street punk sound closer to that of Barr's former band and more of an Irish influence than on the group's debut album. Dropkick Murphys gained their first mainstream exposure when the video for their single "10 Years Of Service" received airplay on the MTV show 120 Minutes
. The Gang's All Here
was followed up in 2001 with the release of Sing Loud, Sing Proud!
, an album which included collaborations with Shane MacGowan, frontman for the Irish rock band The Pogues, and Colin McFaull, vocalist for the London punk band C*ck Sparrer. Sing Loud
marked a significant lineup change for Dropkick Murphys when original guitarist Rick Barton left and was replaced by two guitarists—James Lynch of The Ducky Boys and Marc "The Kid" Orrell, who was 17 at the time. Additional instruments were also added and were played by new band members Ryan Foltz (mandolin, dulcimer, tin whistle) and Robbie "Spicy McHaggis" Medeiros (bagpipes), neither of whom stayed around along. They were replaced by Tim Brennan (mandolin, guitar) and Scruffy Wallace (bagpipes) that same year.
Dropkick Murphys came out with a new album in 2003 called Blackout
. With its authentic working class rock, Blackout
celebrated the triumphs of the spirit as well as the sad conundrum of everyday existence. The album made liberal use of traditional Irish instrumentation and made explicit references to their hometown of Boston. It included the radio hit "Walk Away," as well as the folk ballad and fan favorite, "Fields of Athenry." The Murphys earned a spot on the Vans Warped Tour that year, sharing a stage with other hard rock and punk rock bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Rise Against.
The band released their fifth studio album, The Warrior's Code
, in June 2005. The album featured the singles "Sunshine Highway," "The Warrior's Code," as well as the bonus track, "Tessie." It also included the Murphys' biggest hit to date, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," a song that was inspired by a Woody Guthrie poem the band found in the folk singer's archives. In the wake of the popularity of The Departed
, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" reached #36 on the most-downloaded songs on iTunes and has appeared on a variety of television shows, including an episode of The Simpsons
called "The Debarted," as well as sporting events. Several NHL teams use the song to signal an oncoming powerplay or at the start of an overtime period.
The Murphys followed up with yet another hardscrabble Celtic punk record in 2007 with The Meanest of Times
, the first album to be released on their new vanity label, Born & Bred Records. The Meanest of Times
debuted at #20 on the Billboard
200 chart, selling about 28,000 copies in its first week, and popped the single, "The State of Massachusetts," which made the play list of many US alternative rock stations. The song landed at #83 on Rolling Stone's
list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007.
Although vocalist/bassist Ken Casey is the only original member left in the band, the transitions over the years have all been gradual, and the replacements were all good fits, so that the band as it exists today—Casey, Al Barr (lead vocals), Matt Kelly (drums, bodhrán, vocals), James Lynch (guitar, vocals), Tim Brennan (guitar, accordion, vocals), Jeff DaRosa (mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, tin whistle, acoustic guitar, keyboard, vocals), and Scruffy Wallace (bagpipes)—is pretty true to the ideals and sound of the original lineup. Casey takes the various personnel changes in stride, saying that, "We're working class kids who stumbled into music, not life-long musicians. So we've had a couple people leave over the years just because they met a girl or whatever. It's not necessarily the life that we all envisaged. The guys who continue to be in the band are overwhelmed with the opportunity to continue to do it and are grateful. But some people, from the first time they pick up an instrument, they know they want to play music and don't care if they're sleeping in the dirt. You're like a gypsy, traveling around the world and removed from your roots so it's kind of a tough juggling act from how we were raised. And that's gotten the better of a few members."
As for the origin of the band's name, there are differing stories. According to former band member Marc Orrell, "The Dropkick Murphy will come and get you if you don't go to sleep tonight. It's a rehab center, I think it's in Connecticut. I think it was the guy who used to come around late at night for all the drunks, like if you were too drunk to drive home, he would come and get you and put you in this hole that you couldn't get out until you were sober enough, I don't know. There's a bunch a stories, it's also a boxer, a bunch of things, a rehab center in Connecticut, grandparents used to scare kids with it." Take your pick.
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Dropkick Murphys have released their seventh record and first in four years. The ambitious Going Out in Style
, a concept album, relies on the great storytelling tradition of the Irish as band members draw from their own personal experiences and family folklore and roll them into the story of a fictional character named Cornelius Larkin. The album traces the journey of Larkin—in both the Irish immigrant's first person account of his own wake and the band's in-depth interpretation of his life and lineage—throughout its lyrics. Going Out in Style
includes ballads and the rip-roaring anthems the Murphys are known for. As an added bonus, the band have enlisted the vocal talents of one Mr. Bruce Springsteen, whom they first met at a Dropkick Murphys gig in New York and later collaborated with onstage at one of Springsteen's Boston shows. Springsteen swaps verses with Casey for a spirited take on "Peg O' My Heart," a sweet, boozy love song with a classic old fifties rock 'n' roll feel. Going Out in Style
debuted at #6 on the charts upon its March 1st release.
If you're up for some good old shamrock 'n' roll this St. Patrick's Day, Dropkick Murphys' now-legendary annual St. Patrick's Day celebration plays several Boston dates next week, where the band breaks house records each year with their rowdy, rollicking shows in honor of the Irish holiday. The band then head to Europe in April for a run of dates.