Rick Barton, founding guitarist of the Dropkick Murphys, is still making music with his son Stephen in his current band Continental.
Leaving the Dropkick Murphy’s was no easy decision, with Barton once telling the Fort Wayne Reader why he quit the band in 2000, mid-recording the band’s third album. “Myself and Kenny (Casey, bass player and co-founder) ended up hating each other,” Barton said. “We’ve since made amends, but you know, touring in a band for four straight years… that same old story.
Now touring with Continental, Barton spoke with Rob Smittix of RadioRadioX on a variety of topics, including his time with Dropkick Murphys.
RRX: Many people may or may not know that you were an original founding member of the Dropkick Murphys, we don’t have to focus on it but certainly we should touch on it.
RB: Especially because it’s the 25th anniversary of the legendary album Do or Die.
RRX: I know you have stories but to briefly sum it up. What would you say about your experience?
RB: It was an incredible time in my life but at the time I didn’t know it was incredible. One of the most interesting stories from that whole record was sitting outside of my garage in Quincy, that was our practice space. Lars Frederiksen from Rancid flew in, he was staying at my place because the practice space was right next to it. We congregated outside of the garage, we were sitting around talking and he recently produced Swingin’ Utters’ The Streets of San Francisco album. We were talking about sales, and he said you’d probably be lucky if you did what Swingin’ Utters did, they’ve sold 10,000 and I just looked at everybody and said we’re going to sell 50,000 easily. I broke all punk rock ethos and cred at that moment by blurting that out! Obviously, the album has gone on to surpass way more than 50,000. I’ll never forget saying that but at the same time I didn’t think that we were that great. I kind of knew, when we pulled into Buffalo and there’d be 500 kids lined up. We’re pulling in with the van and I’m like who are these kids? Are they actually there to see us?
My original band Outlets did very little touring. Bands back then didn’t tour, you only toured if you were on a major label. The band that bypassed that and jump started the rest of the bands was The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Around 88′, 89′ or whatever, they got in the van and they toured. They were one of the first ones from Boston. So anyway, we pull up to these places and I was like this is unbelievable. I knew the phenomena, The Outlets became huge in Boston, we would play for 1200 seat rooms within our first year as a band. I understood fans coming to see your band, but I just didn’t think it was possible in another city. You know what I mean?
RRX: Absolutely but I’ve never achieved that.
RB: Not many people have. Compared to the amount of people that start bands it’s astronomically low.
RB: But why are they coming? Are they coming because we have bagpipes? Are they coming because of our name? Did they like a certain song? Keeps you wondering about all of this stuff. We were fairly new at that point. Matt Kelly the drummer had some experience but besides from him and me, we weren’t really that seasoned. Mike and Kenny were both brand new at music.
I go to see the Dropkick Murphys all of the time and I love listening to Kenny talk from the stage. He cracks me up. The things that he says, it’s like the opposite of Paul Stanley at a Kiss concert. I often say that if the old legends came back from the grave and they dropped in on a Murphys show and heard Kenny talking from the stage they’d be like what the hell is this? What did the mayor of Boston form a punk rock band? It’s not typical banter but I love it!
One thing he says a lot from stage is “I don’t know how other people do it but this is the only band I’ve ever had.” That is so rare.
I helped, obviously Mike was instrumental, and Matt Kelly is an incredible drummer but it’s really Kenny’s brain child. It’s just an unbelievable story, it’s fascinating and at the time, sadly, I kind of resented Kenny, not kind of, I did. I was hanging onto the old guard, like all of my old music friends who were so talented and never got anywhere. Even though I was in his band, I was resentful, I was jealous. We’ve made amends with each other, but Kenny and I ended up hating each other after five years in the band. We both stepped it up and talked about the experience. He’s credited me with basically helping him develop his career because he says he couldn’t have done it without me. That’s probably true, not that he couldn’t have done it because I was Rick Barton, he just needed somebody that was just going to make up some chords and show him some songs. It just happened to be me. It wasn’t like Kenny and I were this magical duo, although we did write some pretty good songs together. It’s kind of mind blowing when I look back now 25 years later, it’s pretty incredible that we put that together.
Let’s face it, Mike quit after the first record, Kenny was not easy to deal with, but I didn’t realize why. The reason he was so brutal was because that was the only way to succeed. We needed that person who was going to be worrying and stressing around the clock and that was Kenny’s job. Like I’ve said, I’ve apologized to him for not being a team player. I’m not lamenting the fact that I quit the band. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I had a million dollars or if I became a rock-star if I stayed in the band. Maybe the band would’ve imploded eventually who knows? I also like to think that if we kept the original line-up, we probably could’ve been the next Clash. It would’ve ended up going in a different direction than they ended up going in. Needless to say, I feel somewhat embarrassed that I didn’t realize how much suffering Kenny was doing. I just thought he was a bastard the whole time. The typical thing workers feel about their boss. You know what I mean?
RRX: Oh, for sure.
RB: Of course, now I realize it was me. I should’ve adapted and helped Kenny. I should’ve been there every step of the way encouraging him. In my defense there were a few times I tried to make peace. I came up to him and I said Kenny I know we just can’t get along, but you know certain songs like “Wheel of Misfortune” we wrote together and it’s really inspirational and it feels like a magical moment. I would occasionally try to get sentimental and patch things up through the art. He’d just go yeah FU let’s go play. He didn’t want any part of that BS sentimentality thing, but it wasn’t really BS it was heartfelt on my part. But it was too little too late at that point. The good news is that even though I didn’t capitalize monetarily, no one knows who the F*** I am, a very few people which is fine with me in a way. I have those moments from like January of 96′ until I was still working on the third album March or April of 2000. It was a short amount of time a little over four years. It was an intense period of time; we made tons of music and did tons of touring. So, no matter how much I didn’t gain, I have that time period in my life that was magical. And as much as I thought Kenny was ruining my time on the planet at that time, I was wrong about that. It doesn’t matter now. I think about the music we made, the people I met and that incredible time in my life. It was a gift to me that was given.
Rick Barton is still making music with his son Stephen Barton in his current band Continental and has recently hit the studio so be on the lookout for new music soon!
Originally published in The Xperience Monthly