Fenway Park's adoption of 'Dirty Water' gives Standells' singer a second act
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Any time the Red Sox prevail at Fenway Park, you hear it: the slinky raunch of the guitar, the snide snarl of the vocals, the backhanded celebration of Boston in the lyrics. Hundreds of thousands of Sox fans recognize the Standells' ''Dirty Water" as the unlikely anthem for their beloved team and city.
''Because I love that dirty water/Oh, Boston you're my home . . ."
But for one Red Sox fan who works as a limousine driver in California, ''Dirty Water" means much more. For Dick Dodd of Buena Park, the song's surprising staying power has provided a link to his rock 'n' roll past, which included opening for the Rolling Stones, and a connection to a place he had never seen before ''Dirty Water" came out.
Dodd is the man who sang the '60s proto punk ode to a grungy Boston. The Los Angeles-based Standells drummer when ''Dirty Water" hit the airwaves, Dodd is the one who added the raspy opening that set the mood for the attitude-laced song.
''I'm gonna tell you a story," Dodd said one day last month, repeating his lyrics as he looked upward into a sunny Southern California sky. ''I'm gonna tell you about my town. I'm gonna tell you a big bad story, baby . . ."
Dodd once danced as a Mouseketeer, jammed with Bobby Darin, and appeared with the band on the TV series ''The Munsters." But since the Standells broke up in the early 1970s, he has bounced around as a restaurant manager, an office employee for a construction-equipment company, and a chauffeur. Over the years, his daydreams have often drifted 3,000 miles to Boston. And now, the Standells, who have reunited after all those years and perform from time to time, have played twice for Fenway fans, while the Stones will not appear there until August.
Dodd, now 60, is still stunned by the odds-defying popularity in Boston of a song that peaked at number 11 on the pop charts back in 1966.
''When you get to be my age, you get a little choked up by this," Dodd said during a break in his driving schedule.
Dodd said he began following the team 20 years ago, and from his appearance it is clear he is more than a casual fan: He was outfitted in a Red Sox uniform top with the number of pitcher Curt Schilling on the back. His house keys dangle from a chain embossed with the team logo. And during a later phone call to his home, the Red Sox-Atlanta Braves game could be heard on the television.
But he was unaware the team had adopted ''Dirty Water" until the day several years ago when he heard the stark, distinctive chords pulsating among Fenway Park's crooked crannies at the end of an ESPN telecast of a Red Sox game. They were playing his song.
''The crowd was singing every word," Dodd said, shaking his head in amazement.
''For Boston to pick out the song, I'm really humbled by the whole thing," Dodd said. ''The cocky, punky attitude it has, and the Red Sox being a bunch of scrappers and idiots, it's just great."
Nearly four decades after the song's release, Dodd is still surprised that ''Dirty Water" became a hit in the first place. None of the four Standells had been to Boston before the song. The band recorded ''Dirty Water" only at the prodding of their producer, the late Ed Cobb, who wrote the hit after a visit to Boston, during which he was mugged on the Massachusetts Avenue bridge over the Charles River, Dodd said.
''I had this image of this really seedy part of town and dirty water with who knows what floating in it," Dodd recalled. ''I just kept saying to the band, 'OK, so we're going to tell them a story. We're going to tell them a story about Boston.' I wanted to tell a story about how the guy in the song loved [the dirty water], and how it's a part of him, and how it's a part of his town."
Now, Dodd says, he is in love with Boston.
Dodd and the Standells were invited by the Red Sox to perform ''Dirty Water" last year at a Fenway Park surprise before Game 2 of the World Series. It was a dream come true.
''Nobody knew we were going to be there, number one. And I don't care who you are, you're going to get nervous with Fenway Park sold out," Dodd said. ''Then everyone went freaking crazy, and right at that moment, when I knew I wasn't singing it alone, it was just unbelievable. God, I just wanted to hug everybody."
It had been years since the Standells had gotten together, Dodd said.
Boston fans clapped them on their backs while they walked through the stands after the performance.
Nowhere else does ''Dirty Water" receive the same play in 2005. And for a city whose reputation was built on lofty thinkers and old-money bluebloods, the song's lyrics would have seemed unlikely to command such staying power.
But when the Red Sox searched in 1997 for a theme to celebrate each home victory, general manager Dan Duquette and manager Jimy Williams chose the down-and-dirty sound of the Standells.
And even though ownership has changed since then, the Red Sox are committed to the song as its victory music.
''As far as a celebratory postgame anthem, a song that's kind of rough and grizzled, one that could characterize Boston on a rainy May day, the song seems to fit," said Charles Steinberg, the team's executive vice president for public affairs.
Steinberg said that ''Dirty Water" transcends generations, even within the Red Sox organization. Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, 28, has recorded a cover version of the song for a CD scheduled to be released this summer, Steinberg said.
''Bronson got other players to sing on it, too," Steinberg said. ''I think it's marvelous when four guys who had a hit 39 years ago find that a pitcher today, who wasn't even born then, enjoys the meaning of that song so much."
''Dirty Water" remains the Standells' signature accomplishment, although Dodd said the band has not benefited much financially from the song. The albums that followed their sole big hit never approached its unexpected success.
Once in a while, Dodd said, a limousine client will ask his name, make a connection with the Standells, and break into song: ''Well, I love that dirty water . . ."
But just in case a passenger is unconvinced, Dodd said, ''I keep a picture of the band and me in Fenway in the car."
The group returned to Fenway Park for the home opener in April, when the 2004 World Championship banner was raised. They were told that they would perform in the event of a Red Sox win.
Atop the left-field wall, the group prepared to belt out the tune at game's end as the team rolled toward victory. After the final out, when the familiar beat bounced around the ballpark, few fans were aware that the music was live.
The band had not been announced, Dodd said.
''I was thinking they'd say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, the Standells!' " he recalled.
Maybe, after all these years, the band no longer needs an introduction in Boston.
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.