Remembering The Dempseys

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The Dempseys
The Dempseys

Having now spent more than half of my life playing out in Rock ‘n Roll bands, it is a rare treat for me to come across a live musical act that quite simply blows me away.  Char and I perform together in Vintage, a variety band performing hits from all of rock’s finest eras.  We frequently go out to see other bands play – enjoy them – even learn from them.  But seldom are we amazed by a band’s abilities.  Seldom does a band make you walk away wondering, how do they do that???

The Dempseys were a rare exception.  It’s no wonder they were voted year after year The Best Band in Memphis.  This amazing show band called it quits in early 2010, ending their long reign.

Char and I enjoyed watching The Dempseys perform live as often as we could.  Their concerts were phenomenal – both the music as well as the stage show.  Sun Studio’s own Sam Phillips once said, “…The Dempseys are the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.”  Char and I have some fond personal memories of them as well – including being called out from the stage for spending the whole night embraced in a kiss rather than watching their show (hey, what can I say – we are in love).  They are an act we will truly miss on the Memphis music scene.

Joe and Bradley play the Double Neck Guitar
Joe and Bradley play the Double Neck Guitar

For those of you who never got a chance to catch them perform, The Dempseys were high octane rockabilly on speed.  The three piece band including “Slick” Joe Fick on bass, his “best friend in the whole wide world” Bradley Dean Birkedahl on guitar and trumpet, and Ron Perrone Jr. on drums, were as fun to watch as they were to hear.

The first time I heard them perform, they were playing at Elvis Presley’s Memphis – a premier music venue that was located on the West end of legendary Beale Street in downtown Memphis, TN.  After about 2 hours of earth shattering rockabilly tunes, The Dempsey’s broke out in AC/DC and Led Zeppelin (rockabilly metal style) using a baseball bat for a bow on the stand up bass.  I had never seen a guitarist play as fast as Birkedahl.  I was stunned by their music as well as their showmanship.

Since that first performance I caught, I was hooked.  I’ve seen them perform up and down Beale Street and around the town. The Dempeys have performed for Presidents and Prime Ministers, with members of Elvis’ bands and contemporaries of The King.  They played in the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire.  They performed on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, CNN, and the Travel Channel… to name a few.

The Traveling Twosome Enjoy a Dempsey's Concert
The Traveling Twosome Enjoy a Dempsey's Concert

When Char and I had friends come in from out of town, The Dempseys were on our short list of Must-Sees-In-Memphis, which also included highlights such as a trip to Graceland.

The Dempseys began their musical career as street musicians in the Pacific Northwest and started performing professionally in Tacoma, Washington while still in high school.  They eventually recorded a CD of original material entitled “Drinking Songs for Your Grandparents.”  As good as the CD is, it just can’t conjure the energy of their live show.

I know that whatever the members of The Dempseys do next, they will be successful.  But now the music scene in Memphis certainly has a void that will never be filled.  The Dempseys will be missed.  I’m just glad Char and I were able to catch them as often as we did.

The Dempseys Live in Concert
The Dempseys Live in Concert

43 thoughts on “Remembering The Dempseys

  • February 13, 2010 at 1:58 pm
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    I didnt know The Dempsey’s called it quits. This is so sad. Thanks for giving them a tribute. I see them play every time I go to Memphis and will miss their show.

  • February 15, 2010 at 5:13 pm
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    this stinks – one of the best bands i had ever seen live

  • February 16, 2010 at 5:02 am
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    Jesse,

    I completely agree. I rarely get “too bummed out” when I hear of bands disbanding. However, when our eldest daughter (who loves them as much as we do) told us of their disbandment I was VERY bummed!! There were only 2 bands that we would seek out when going “out on the town”. The Dempsey’s and the Victor Wainwright Blues Band. It’s a sad time for Memphis….we are losing an unbelievably talented group of guys who not only entertained with their vocals and awesome ability to play but their personalities were magnificent and they provided GREAT entertainment. They always gave their 110% and provided more than music. They provided a great show!

    We will personally miss our date nights with the Dempsey’s. After all, our very first time seeing them perform together they shouted out to us “Oh My!!! You two need to GET A ROOM!” LOL They said that a few times that night as we lip-locked one another all night long. We all giggled about it!

    Char~

  • February 21, 2010 at 6:08 am
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    Wonder who took that picture of the two of you? hmmmm lol

    Sad to hear that they called it quits, was REALLY glad that I had the opportunity to see them. Will always remember my first “Beale Street” experience was going to see them. What a fun night (no comments from the two of you now! lol).

  • February 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm
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    I am so sad to hear they broke up. What a shame. I was a Dempsey Junky. Saw them first while my daughter was going to Univ of Memphis. Asked them to do a Buddy Holly tune. They went through a bunch of them, and I kept coming back to see them at least 20 times. I even remember helping them haul their gear out to the car after a gig at the Flying Saucer. Even went to the Octoberfest in Columbus Ohio when they played there. They emptied out all the tents there to one tent they were playing at. I knew they would. Thanks for the memories, I don’t know why they split, but I hope they do ok wherever they go.

  • February 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm
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    Mike, they really were a class act! One of a kind. There just isn’t anyone else doing what they did, the way they did it – and the Memphis Music scene will not be the same without them. Thanks for jumping in on our website!

  • April 19, 2010 at 2:11 am
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    This is such a great loss. They played at our Juice plus+ convention events in Memphis. I also enjoyed their energy on Beale Street at the Blues Cafe. In October they didn’t seem to have the same joy in their performance. I hope everything works out well for each of them.

  • April 19, 2010 at 4:50 am
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    My husband told me about this a few days ago…so sad. We first saw them like 3 or 4 years ago at the Huey’s in Cordova. We were only dating at that time, but swore we would have them play at our wedding if we ever got married….and we did. All of our guests enjoyed them as much as we did and it is so sad to hear that they broke up.

  • April 19, 2010 at 8:11 am
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    My husband and I were also huge fans. They always performed a high energy show that would not let down. I did not know they broke up and stumbled upon this sad news while searching for their web-site to find an upcoming show date. I wish they would ahve kept the site-up a little longer to keep us up on any upcoming individual projects. We have been seeing them ten years and hate that two of them have seemingly disappeared. I did see Brad is still playing at the Flying Saucer from time to time. Would love to hear a review on that.

    I wish them all the very best. I wish I had know they were closing shop. I would have definitely wanted to catch a final show.

  • April 19, 2010 at 1:52 pm
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    I really miss their magnetic energy! As a singer I must say the Dempseys truly inspired me in many ways. They gave me the stage power example I needed to embrace the crowd and engage them. Very few groups entertain me as they did. I looked forward to seeing them play out! Sad they have chosen different paths but I understand . Best of luck to each of them. May they continue to inspire others and enjoy life!

  • April 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm
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    I am devastated. I hadn’t seen them recently and best friend with same affinity for music is coming to town next month 🙁 any recomendations on a high energy local band? Thx

  • April 23, 2010 at 6:41 pm
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    Cathe – I’ll be the first to say that we’re not as energetic as The Dempsey’s… No one else will be – they were a one of a kind act! But if you’re looking for live music next month, the band that Char and I play in – Vintage – will be performing at The Daq. Come see us May 14 – 15 at The Daq. Our website is http://www.TheVintagePeople.com

  • May 27, 2010 at 6:23 pm
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    What happened to the trio that was obviously in a league of their own? Do you forsee a reunion? Please say yes!

  • May 27, 2010 at 7:58 pm
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    We certainly hope so! In the meantime, you can check out Joe Fick and Brad Birkedahl in their new bands in and around Memphis and Nashville. Char and I will check them out soon and do a write up on The Traveling Twosome for both bands… stay tuned!

  • May 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm
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    NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • May 28, 2010 at 8:46 pm
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    Del – Yep, that’s pretty much what Char and I said when we heard the news.

  • June 24, 2010 at 10:12 pm
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    Any idea what lead to the breakup – aside from the project running it’s course? They were simply brilliant. I hate that I didn’t get to see them more.

  • July 30, 2010 at 8:30 am
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    Where’s the right up on the Dempsey’s individual projects?!? Would love your review.

    Thanks, guys.

  • October 16, 2010 at 9:07 pm
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    This completely sucks!!! I first saw them w/friends at EP’s Memphis years ago, and have seen them several times since, dragging everyone I know to their shows, especially when they played here in St. Louis at Ameristar Casino. There is a void in the music world now.

  • October 28, 2010 at 6:58 pm
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    Too bad guys. Would have liked to catch your show for old times sake. Best of luck in whatever bands you are in.

  • November 15, 2010 at 11:26 am
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    Wow. Very sad. I remember the first time I saw them @ Elvis Presley’s Memphis back in Spring ’01. I was in Memphis for a week on business. I saw them the first night, then went back every night. They were a band that “you had to see,” because seeing them on TV or hearing a recording didn’t do them justice. The best that I could ever describe them was they were like “Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3 (in their case),” from The Cat in the Hat, unleashed on stage playing anything and everything. Then rotating on their instruments like they were a volleyball team. They are truly the best live act I’ve ever seen. Greatly missed.

  • November 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm
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    Chris,

    Totally agree. I miss having our special date nights and going to see them live. They were a one of a kind act and are VERY missed!!

  • December 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm
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    So sad they split. Only just seen this. Was hoping to see them again in Nashville next visit. Brilliant band and fabulous showmen.

  • December 11, 2010 at 10:40 pm
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    Agreed…… they were absolutely my FAVORITE band to go see live on date nights!! I was VERY sad when they split up and went separate ways!!

    If you’ve never seen Victor Wainwright than you MUST try and catch of of his shows!! They are quite talented. They are different than the Demseys. Check them out here: http://www.wildrootsrecords.com/ to buy an album, check theirschedule or see video!

  • February 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm
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    Not one to be a musical “groupie”, I was astonished to find myself wanting to watch The Dempsey’s over and over, but groupie I was.

    We saw them here in Chattanooga at Riverbend and Rhythm and Brews. Went up to Knoxville to catch them at Barley’s, several times at Rippey’s in Nashville and several at various places in Memphis.

    When our cousin’s from Norway came on their of the U.S. we saw them in Nashville. The next night we asked them what they wanted to do and they replied, “Go to Memphis and see The Dempsey’s again”. Despite going to Disneyworld and New Orleans, they were the highlight of our cousins’ American tour.

    The first time I ever saw them was at Elvis’ nightclub on Beale quite by accident. I’ll never forget the chap at the bar from Australia who was videoing the show because, as he said, “they’ll never believe this back home”.

    Can’t believe they’re gone, but thanks for the memories.

  • February 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm
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    Doug, I understand completely. Char and I have been musicians all our lives. I’ve been playing out in bands since I was 17 years old… but I, too, have never seen anything quite like The Dempseys. I’m glad I was able to catch them live as often as I did and I’m glad Char and I have those memories of seeing them perform. They were one of a kind and we’re happy to have given a place on our site to keep their memory alive and give a forum for their fans to leave feedback. Now go enjoy the rest of our site… it may not be The Dempseys, but our recent “Fake Commercials” post will at least bring a few laughs to you!

  • March 29, 2011 at 2:26 am
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    Hello there! I had the more than honorable task of nurturing, encouraging, guiding and once in a while even disciplining Brad and Joe’s early years as two guitar players, then hooking Joe up with his first bass… I was their guitar and bass teacher. They will always be my best music teaching success story! Coaching them through their first band experiences was an incredible adventure! I am saddened more than I can say that they hung up the band. I hope they have as much success in other areas… More even!… Here’s hoping they will reunite! SW

  • August 23, 2011 at 7:21 am
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    Hey here’s one piece of good news. If you’re ever in Nashville, Joe is currently playing with the house band (“Don Kelley Band”) at Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway Wed – Sat from 6:30 – 9:30p. We are from Chicago but get to Nashville as often as we can and just go crazy listening to these guys. SO MUCH FUN! Besides Joe playing crazy slap upright and electric bass to the utter amazement of the crowd, the young (24ish?) lead guitar player J.D.Simo is an impresario from Chicago who will absolutely blow your mind (my husband Michael is a recording engineer, mixer, electric guitar player in Chicago and thinks J.D. may be the best guitar player ever. So back to Joe, I just learned of his Memphis roots last night when speaking to my boss at work (an Atlanta native) about the amazing bass player from Memphis I heard in Nashville and his immediate response was, “was he one of the Demseys?” Sounds like we’re going to have to come through Memphis one of these days to take in YOUR great music scene! 🙂

  • August 23, 2011 at 7:37 am
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    Beverly,

    Joe is such an amazingly talented guy! So glad you get to see him perform. I miss the *Dempseys* SO MUCH because they all were INCREDIBLE together! Looks like Louis and I will be planning a trip to Nashville just to go and see him again. Thanks for the info!

    Y’all should really come to Memphis! Make it a trip when our own band, Vintage, is playing so we can meet and greet! We are so very fortunate to have amazing talent here to work with and learn from! Brad Birkedahl and the Burning Love Band is a great group to see perform. Brad was the Dempseys guitar player. He is a lot of fun.

    Also, Victor Wainwright is A-MA-ZING! We try and see him as well whenever we can!

    Hope to meet you sometime soon!

    Live~ Love~ Laugh~

  • November 24, 2011 at 11:02 am
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    Sad to hear the Dempseys are no more. I saw them in 2003 and 05 on trips from England to Memphis and they lit up the night. At least I have 2CDs to bring back the memories. I always hope they’d make it over here to England…

  • November 24, 2011 at 11:45 am
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    Hi, JP. I will pass on the compliment to Brad Birkedahl. He is a great friend and talented guy! Char and I sat in with his new band, The Burning Love Band, a few times. If you come back to Memphis, be sure to check them out. They are outstanding! And check out our band, Vintage, while you are at it!

  • November 26, 2011 at 12:10 am
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    JP Bean, My heart broke when it happened! Ask Louis! I was sooooooo sad!!!! They were INCREDIBLE!!!

  • December 16, 2011 at 9:26 pm
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    I ran into the Dempseys a few years and had the opportunity to perform with them for nights at the club they played all the time in Memphis. (Blues City). It was a pleasure and it is so sad they are no longer playing together. They put on one hell of a show!!!!

  • December 24, 2011 at 2:55 am
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    They sure did, Nikkita. I was VERY sad they broke up!! Nobody could ever replace what they had on stage!! INCREDIBLE TALENT! However, that said, please be sure to check out Brad’s Birkerdahl’s new band “Brad Birkedahl and the Burning Love Band” They are FANTASTIC!!!

  • August 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm
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    Will be in Memphis Oct 24 – 29 2012.
    Are you playing there and what venue?

  • August 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm
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    Yes! We’re playing at Jack Magoo’s on Saturday, Oct. 27th, 2012! Come check us out and say Hi! Jack Magoo’s is at 2583 Broad Ave.

  • February 13, 2013 at 7:16 pm
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    I went to Memphis in 2008, walked into a bar where this band was playing. Had no idea who they were. It was the most amazing show I have ever seen. I was completely stunned by their talent. I’m a professional musician. Sorry to hear they broke up.

  • February 13, 2013 at 9:44 pm
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    Greg – we wholeheartedly agree. We are pro musicians as well, of course, and even so, Char and I always marveled at their showmanship and musicianship. Not just that, but they are great people to be around! Next time you come to Memphis, be sure to check out Brad Birkedahl’s new band… and check us out while you’re at it!

  • April 9, 2016 at 11:06 pm
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    Just saw “Walk The Line” and remembered I miss their show.

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