Dick Dodd is one of the most persuasive and recognizable voices in the classic American rock ’n’ roll pantheon.
Lead singer and drummer of mid-’60s Hollywood rockers the Standells, his declarative, sneering vocals on big-beat staples “Dirty Water,” “Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White” and “Riot on the Sunset Strip” established an electrifying new type of hard modern rock. When Dodd takes the stage at Burbank's Joe's Great American Bar on Sunday night, he'll not only bring all of that momentous rebel spirit, but also an impressive trove of show business experience that he'd accrued even before joining the Standells at age 18.
The lifelong Redondo Beach resident was a child prodigy whose talents as a dancer and singer landed him in Burbank in mid-1955 as one of the original Mickey Mouse Club's Mouseketeers.
“I was nine,” Dodd says. “We didn't have a car, so we had to leave at 5 in the morning to be at the studio at 8 o'clock. It was a long trip, and we took the bus five days a week. On the ride home, I'd do my homework and take a nap and then get up the next day and do it all over again. I bought my first snare drum from Annette [Funicello] and she had bought it from Cubby [O'Brien] — I paid I think 25 bucks.”
After his stint at Disney, Dodd was hired as one of singer Giselle MacKenzie's musical Curfew Kids on her popular NBC variety show and performed, with MacKenzie and comic icon Jack Benny, in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe.
But the drum he'd purchased from Funicello set the pace for his professional life, first as drummer for surf rock pioneers the Belairs (of “Mr. Moto” fame).
“I finally bought a full kit, but I was still using that snare. We were the surfers’ favorite because the Belairs were, pretty much, the first surf band to get any attention. We'd pack Columbus Hall every time we played and do it whenever we needed money. I was in there a couple of years, started around ’59, and then we formed Eddie & the Showmen, and we were playing up against Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar.”
“Then I met Jackie DeShannon [singer of “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”] and I ended up with her and she had a bunch of hits. I was her drummer. We were in Hollywood and I was doing all the demo sessions with Glen Campbell, James Burton, and the Wrecking Crew. It was amazing — the first guys I ever saw with long hair were Jack Nitzsche, Sonny Bono and Phil Spector. I backed up Sonny and Cher when they were Caesar and Cleo, and doing all this studio stuff and making good money for a 17-year-old, but I wanted to be in a band.
“Jackie heard that the Standells were losing their drummer, so I auditioned for them and they just handed me five suits: ‘We wear the black ones on Monday the blue ones on Wednesday.’ That was it. They had a steady gig at PJ's on Sunset next to the Whisky — all the mob guys went in there, it was just like Vegas.”
At DeShannon's urging, Dodd began contributing more and more vocals, finally assuming his dual role as drummer and lead singer and transforming the Standells into a much tougher-sounding group.
“I had this bad ’tude,” he says, “I was 19, punkin' around, surfing, and just fed up with suits and the people who wore them.”
The complete opposite of tame pop-rockers like the Beatles, the Standells exemplified both the garage and proto-punk sub-genres and quickly became one of the most influential bands of the era. When British Invasion bad boys the Rolling Stones visited PJ's in 1965, they immediately knew the Standells were kindred spirits.
“We met the Stones there, hit it off and of course we wanted to tour with them. They said, ‘We can’t take you until you get a number one. Get a good hit and then we will take you on the road.’ Well, after ‘Dirty Water’ hit, our manager calls and says, ‘You're going on tour with the Stones.’ It was unreal!
“So it was us, the Stones and the McCoys, who had ‘Hang on Sloopy.’ We'd alternate billing, so everyone had a turn opening up for them.”
That was the band's big break-out, and for Dodd, a memorable turning point. “We were on their private plane for a month. We had Mick's 23rd birthday party up in the sky. Oh, it was crazy, we were all throwing cake and everything else around. Remind me sometime and I'll tell you how high that plane really got.”
Dodd split from the group in 1968 to record as a solo artist but the prevailing psychedelic trend had erased the context for Dodd's rough-and-tumble, bad-attitude brand of rock ’n’ roll.
He and the Standells remain active, albeit sporadically, and ‘Dirty Water,’ with its references to Boston and the Charles River, has become the stadium-galvanizing theme song for several major Massachusetts sports teams.
Meanwhile, “I'm still having a blast, loving the music,” Dodd says. “The music is everything.”
What: Dick Dodd with Deke Dickerson's All-Star Garage Band, The Untamed Youth, The Outta Sites
Where: Joe's Great American Bar & Grill, 4311 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
When: Sunday, April 15, 7-11 p.m.
More info: (818) 729-0805, joesgreatbar.com
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”