fb-pixel Skip to main content

Dick Dodd, 68; lead singer of iconic ‘Dirty Water’

Dick Dodd (right) jammed with full-time pitcher and sometime guitarist Bronson Arroyo.file 2005/Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

“Well I love that dirty water. Oh, Boston, you’re my home,’’ Dick Dodd of the Standells sang in 1966’s “Dirty Water.”

The water of the river Charles is no longer all that dirty. The women at local colleges aren’t frustrated by curfews, and thieves don’t generally prowl along the Esplanade, two other images the song’s lyrics invoke.

And at the time the song was released, Mr. Dodd and his bandmates had never even set foot in Boston, let alone been born here. No matter, the ironic homage to the flinty side of Beantown became the iconic soundtrack to the successes of Boston sport teams.


“For Boston to pick out the song, I’m really humbled by the whole thing,” Mr. Dodd told the Globe in 2005.

Mr. Dodd, a one-time Mouseketeer, member of the influential surfer band the Bel-Airs, and drummer and lead singer of the garage band the Standells, died Friday at a Los Angeles-area hospital, The Los Angeles Times reported. Mr. Dodd, who had disclosed to fans on his website earlier this year that he had advanced cancer, was 68.

“Dirty Water” was the only top 20 hit for the Standells, reaching number 11 on Billboard’s list. It was written by the band’s producer, Ed Cobb, after he visited the city. Since 1997, the song has been played after Red Sox victories at Fenway Park and became part of the experience of seeing the Bruins and Celtics at the TD Garden.

Little of this was known to the rest of the former members of the band, which Mr. Dodd left in 1968, until the Sox front office contacted him before the 2004 World Series. On only a few hours notice, the band reunited and played the song at the series’ second game.

It was a dream come true, said Mr. Dodd, by then a limousine driver in California and a Sox fan.


“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,” Mr. Dodd told the Globe. “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.”

The reunited group would return to play at Sox games in Fenway Park occasionally in subsequent years.

Joseph Richard Dodd Jr. was born in Hermosa Beach, Calif. At age 9, he was dubbed “Dickie” during a stint as one of the regulars on the hit TV show “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

“It was the best training I could have had as a kid,” Mr. Dodd told The Los Angeles Times in 1990. “You had to learn fast. You didn’t horse around. Even though you were a kid, you had to hit your marks and learn your parts.”

He said he bought a snare drum, for $20, from the show’s star, Annette Funicello.

Before joining the Standells in 1964 — the band’s name tweaks the practice of musicians standing around the offices of booking agents to find work — Mr. Dodd was prominent in the early surfer-rock scene in Southern California. He played with the Bel-Airs, most known for their instrumental “Mr. Moto,” and with Eddie and the Showmen.

Although the Standells had only one hit song before breaking up and falling into obscurity outside of Interstate 495, the group is considered by some rock critics to be among the forefathers of punk music. Their blunt, suggestive lyrics and raunchy, stripped-down music would echo a decade later in the clubs of the Bowery in Manhattan and in London.


Much of the group’s distinctive sound was credited to the growling voice of Mr. Dodd.

“When he opened his mouth, there was that voice: snotty and authoritative, an American Mick Jagger sort of voice,” rockabilly songwriter and guitarist Deke Dickerson told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s the sound that captures a particular era in ’60s garage music.”

“Dirty Water” is listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.’’

Much of the now-famous lyrics were improvised during the taping session, according to the 2007 book “Love That Dirty Water: The Standells and the Improbable Red Sox Anthem,’’ by Chuck Burgess and Bill Nowlin.

And the song’s heavy bass drum beat was pounded out by Mr. Dodd with a mallet, instead of a foot pedal.

“We were just throwing songs together, putting them on tape,’’ Mr. Dodd said, according to the book. “[Cobb] goes ‘I was in Boston. . . . I got mugged when I was down by this river they call the Charles. The water there is dirtier than anything, and you wouldn’t believe the area there.’

“He was just going on and on about this. He said ‘I’m going to write a song about it.’ ”


Michael Bailey can be reached at michael.bailey@globe.com.