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.
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.
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.