From today's Providence Journal:
1903 anthem puts Red Sox in swinging mood
A Boston punk-rock band reworks the lyrics and adds a harder edge to "Tessie," and just may have come up with a good-luck charm for the Olde Town Team.
01:00 AM EDT on Saturday, October 23, 2004
BY RICK MASSIMO
Journal Pop Music Writer
So who's the Red Sox' secret weapon?
David Ortiz? Curt Schilling? Team doctor Bill Morgan, who stitched Schilling's ankle together? The cadaver on whom Morgan practiced the procedure first?
Wrong, wrong, wrong and yech. It's Ken Casey.
Don't look for him on the roster. Ken Casey is the lead singer and bassist of Dropkick Murphys. He and the Boston punk-rock band's version of the century-old fan anthem "Tessie," a regular on the Fenway Park public-address system, have been around for the highest points of this Red Sox season.
As Casey Stengel said, you could look it up. (Of course, he was a Yankee, so what did he know?)
"Tessie" was written in 1903 and adopted as the anthem for a Boston fan club known as the Royal Rooters. Apparently, they'd rain the song down on opposing players' heads while cheering on the Americans, which is what Boston's American League team was called at the time.
According to Casey, Charles Steinberg, executive vice president of the Red Sox, wanted to revive the song, but needed someone to rework it. The recording sounded like a 100-year-old record, and the lead singer was "some old lady."
Steinberg explained to Jeff Horrigan, a Boston Herald sportswriter, that he needed someone to remake "Tessie." And Horrigan suggested Dropkick Murphys, because the band's modern-day punk rock included some reworked traditional Irish songs, bagpipes and all.
The problem was -- well, the song.
THE ORIGINAL, Casey says, was not at all about the Red Sox, or even about Boston. It was "a Broadway song from a Broadway play, and it was a woman singing about her parrot. It's pretty creepy, actually. God knows why they chose it, but who knows what was in fashion in 1903? . . . It was probably just a song that everyone knew and could sing together." Apparently, the Royal Rooters used to change the words around, putting in the names of opposing players to heckle them.
Dropkick Murphys took a tip from the Rooters. "We basically changed everything about it," Casey says, "except a hint of the original melody." With Horrigan's help, Casey and the band reworked the lyrics to be about "the fan base of that era, and the Sox winning the World Series on a regular basis back then."
The new lyrics include tributes to players Jake Stahl, Bill Dineen and Cy Young; the Huntington Avenue Grounds, where the Americans played (Fenway Park opened in 1912), and Rooter "Nuff Ced" McGreevy, who owned a Boston bar called Third Base (the last stop before home). And they got Red Sox players Johnny Damon, Bronson Arroyo and Lenny DiNardo to help with the huge background vocals on the chorus.
Since the original was a vocal-and-piano recording, they put a piano intro on their recording, before the guitars and drums kick in. They kept a few lines from the original, mostly in the first verse, as well as the tag line of the chorus. But it wasn't easy. "It's almost like another language," Casey says.
Indeed. What the heck does "She's got a comment full of love" mean?
Good question. It's what Casey thought the original singer was singing. "I found out it's something like 'She's got a comet full of love,' which I thought was even stranger." So he kept "comment."
THEY RECORDED THE SONG in July and gave it to the Sox to play at Fenway Park. They've also put the song, along with a "baseball" mix (vocals, bagpipes and organ) and a few other Dropkick Murphys songs, on a charity single (benefiting the Red Sox Foundation) released in late August.
When the band recorded the song, the Sox were well behind the Yankees in the American League East race, and their chances of even making the playoffs were in question.
Then Dropkick Murphys played "Tessie."
The first time they played it in public was in Fenway Park, before the July 24 Red Sox-Yankees game. That would be the one in which the Sox' Jason Varitek and the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez got into a fight that saw both benches rumble. The game ended with the Red Sox winning, 11-10, on a Bill Mueller walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
"Coincidence?" Casey says now. "I don't know."
While the burst of success that swept the Sox into the playoffs didn't begin for another couple of weeks, many credit that game with lighting a fire under the team and turning the season around. Anyway, the Sox have been believers.
"The Red Sox have been very good to us," Casey says. "We've snowballed them into believing that we're their good-luck charm."
The band also played "Tessie" at Fenway before Game 3 of the Division Series against Anaheim, and the Red Sox won again on a walk-off home run.
"I kept calling them up and said, 'You need me back!' " Casey says. "They bought it!"
Of course, when the Sox fell behind the Yankees, three games to none, that was a harder sell.
Casey says Steinberg was "probably about the only one who was saying we weren't bad luck at that point. I went up to him after the Game 2 loss and said, 'Charles, I don't know . . .' and he said, 'No! This is just how it worked in 1903!' " (Boston was down three games to one in the 1903 World Series, then roared back to take the series, five games to three. (Back then, the Series was best of nine).
The song has also become a regular part of Dropkick Murphys' set, and they've played it on tour in Europe and Japan as well as across the United States.
IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES, Casey says, "We explain the story behind the song, and about the Red Sox. It's easy to sell a crowd on the underdog who's been trying all these years to win. . . . So hopefully we're creating Red Sox fans in other countries."
There are plenty of them worldwide already. "They're all over the place."
"Tessie" isn't Dropkick Murphys' first foray into the Boston sports world. "Time to Go," off their latest album, Blackout, is a tribute to being a Bruins fan ("Go! Go! Black and gold! Drop the puck, it's time to go!"). The band played a concert in the FleetCenter last November after a Bruins game, which Boston won (of course), 3-2, in overtime. Brian Rolston, who scored the winning goal, joined in on guitar.
Casey, 35, says he's always been a Red Sox fan, since the team's epic World Series battle with the Cincinnati Reds (let's not talk about how that turned out). "I'm 35, so 1975 was my first recollection of baseball."
In 1986, thanks to some friends' fathers who were police officers, Casey saw the Red Sox win the American League Championship Series against the California Angels (let's not talk about how 1986 turned out either). In fact, Casey says he was with those same friends Wednesday night in Yankee Stadium.
When reached by phone yesterday, Casey and the band were getting ready to play the World Series Gala last night at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. It's a gathering of officials of Major League Baseball and various teams, and "they wanted to do something more festive than meeting in a local bar," Casey says. "I don't know; anything called 'gala' kind of scares me for us to be playing at."