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Coming Through With the Big Hit at Fenway

Bill Plaschke

October 31, 2004|Bill Plaschke

They were one-hit wonders in a music world that had long stopped wondering.

One was a barber, another owned a restaurant, another worked for a medical company, and another worked in nightclubs.

They were four members of a forgotten and disbanded Southland garage band called the Standells. That one hit was four decades ago. Their youngest member is 59.

Their drummer, Dick Dodd, took the call.

"Oh my gosh, we found you," said the giddy Boston Red Sox employee, phoning on the eve of the World Series.

"Found who?" he said.

"We want your band to come back to play at Fenway Park before Game 2," she said.

"Play where?" he said.

"Your song, 'Dirty Water,' is our team anthem, we play it after every win, we want you to play it live," she said.

"Our song is your what?" he said.

And so began the magical mystery tour that brought together four aging rockers after decades apart, put them on a plane from Los Angeles to Boston with less than 24 hours' notice and placed them in center field at Fenway before Game 2, where they led 35,000 people in song while players danced and inspiration built.

After having never been to a Red Sox game, the Standells are now part of Red Sox lore, even if it was for only 2 1/2 minutes between cutting hair and serving pasta.

They had never been to the World Series, yet folks back there are saying they helped win one, to which they can summon one response.

"Cool," said Dodd.

It's a strange, wonderful story but, then, this has been a strange, wonderful month.

"The chances of finding the Standells and making this work were slim and none," said Charles Steinberg, Boston's executive vice president for public affairs. "But, you know, this has been the year for slim."

*

If you haven't heard of the band, then you probably don't live in Los Angeles.

The Standells, thought by some to be the godfathers of punk rock because of their rebellious lyrics, were formed in 1962. They became a fixture in Southland nightclubs and eventually toured with the Rolling Stones before disbanding in 1970.

If you haven't heard of the song, then you don't live in Boston.

Released in 1966, it was such an afterthought that the Standells forgot they had recorded it until it began rising on the charts in south Florida.

It rose as high as number 11 on the national charts, but then, like the band, it disappeared ... except in Boston.

Because the song was Boston, written about life on the Charles River, with the "lovers, muggers and thieves ... aw, but they're cool people."

The most famous chorus of the song is a reaffirmation of Bostonians' love for their city despite its problems.

"Well I love that dirty water ... Oh, Boston, you're my home."

The song was written by the late Ed Cobb, the band's producer, who was inspired while staying in a hotel on the Charles River.

The song is a celebration of Boston's unusual but unrelenting lifestyles, so it only figured that eventually it would become a celebration of Boston's unusual but unrelenting baseball team.

In the early 1990s, the team began playing "Dirty Water" after victories. It was their "I Love L.A."

By the time John Henry bought the team three years ago, fans were singing the chorus, then carrying it out to local bars, where disc jockeys and juke boxes also began playing the song after victories.

It was then that Steinberg set out to actually find the Standells and invite them to Fenway Park.

Problem was, the Standells were no longer the Standells.

The four guys who played on "Dirty Water" had played together once in 20 years. They had little idea of their song's popularity in some faraway city.

For most of three years, Steinberg searched in vain.

"We'd walk around saying, 'Where in the heck do we find these guys?' " he said.

Then, in an odd way, the Standells found them.

A couple of years ago, Larry Tamblyn, the keyboard player, heard their song being played for a few seconds on the telecast after the Sox won a playoff game.

"I remember telling my wife, 'Get in here, they're playing our song,' " he said.

He told his buddies. They heard it, too. When the Sox made the World Series this year, Dodd, who still drums and sings in Orange County gigs, began wondering out loud.

He sent an e-mail to a friend in the radio business saying it would be neat if the Standells could travel to Boston and play the song they kept hearing on television.

"It was just kind of wishful thinking," Dodd said. "I had no idea...."

The friend forwarded the e-mail to a friend who works in Boston radio. That friend forwarded the e-mail to Steinberg's office.

It took about 10 seconds for one of Steinberg's assistants to telephone Dodd. It was 3 p.m. on the eve of the World Series. The Standells would have to find each other and jump on a plane in less than 24 hours to make it happen.

Dodd hung up the phone and called his band mates, who all had the same reaction.

Said bass player Gary McMillan, a barber: "I was like, 'You gotta be kidding me! Nobody is going to know us. This is a joke, right?' "

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