Barrett Reflects on Mighty Career in Punk Rock, Charity, Lending a Helping Hand

It may not come as a surprise for most fans of Boston-bred punk music, but Dicky Barrett is one of a kind. Although he was the MC for one of the most well-known late night talk shows on one of the biggest networks in history, Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC, most people know him as the frontman of the vastly influential vanguard for ska-punk as we know it today, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Although he was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and moved around to different parts of the state during his childhood until settling down in Norwood in 1969, Barrett’s love for punk rock didn’t hatch until the late 1970s, when a chance acquaintance with a neighbor newly moved from Roslindale changed the course of Dicky’s life, and in turn, punk rock as modern-day skankers have come to know it.

“My brother and I just loved rock n’ roll when we were kids, and then we fell in love with punk rock. We knew a guy who moved to Norwood from Roslindale, and he had all these punk records, and we just couldn’t get enough of it,” said Barrett. “If I had to choose my all-time favorite, I would say the Clash, and across the board in the Bosstones, I think they would say the same thing. The first album I ever had was Aerosmith’s ‘Toys in the Attic,’ but I loved the Beatles too,” he continued. “You can just about name anything, and I like it to some degree. There is very little I don’t like. But there is a lot that I love, and that would be a lot of punk rock.”

If it weren’t for that neighbor in Norwood, and those Clash and Ramones records, the Bosstones might never have come about.

“It came from that same batch of records as the Clash, the Damned, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols. The Specials, Madness, The English Beat, from the Second wave of Ska, not the Jamaican stuff, I fell in love with the English stuff first,” said Barrett. “I went to see the Pretenders at the Orpheum years ago, and the English Beat were opening up, and I just couldn’t believe it,” he continued.

While Barrett cites the bands that got him into punk rock, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are arguably the face of Ska-Punk as we know it today. With millions of albums sold worldwide over the span of their 33-year career, they have also, in many ways, returned the favor of bands like the Clash by influencing some of the most anticipated ska-punk mainstays and newcomers like The Interrupters, Reel Big Fish, Big D and the Kids Table, and a number of others. They’ve been busy over the last three decades and have worked hard to cement their name in music history, and for Barrett, it’s been nothing short of a humbling experience.

“We have more than we could have imagined, and it’s completely satisfying. To be able to do something with your favorite people in the world for as long as we’ve been able to do it, that is a complete blessing,” said Barrett. “I mean, Joe (Gittleman) and I are best friends, and we’re still great friends with Nate Albert, the original guitar player, and really good friends with Lawrence Katz, the current guitar player. It’s like having guys you went to war with,” he said with a chuckle. “Maybe that is a strong analogy, it might not be fair to guys who actually went to war, but to have your lifelong pals involved in something together, to share that common thread, it’s been a dream. We never asked for much, and we got way more than we imagined.”

And while the Bosstones have seen their fair share of the big time, with their 1997 smash hit “The Impression That I Get” and numerous television and movie cameos (most recently, they were featured in a Boston-centric episode of “The Simpsons”) and even getting a chance to rock out with the characters from Sesame Street for “Elmopalooza,” they haven’t let fame get in the way of what is important in a social sense.

“When someone like me starts to prioritize, and say ‘this more important than that,’ then it starts to get fuzzy and strange. All problems are really important to somebody, and every year at the Hometown Throwdown, we do something different,” said Barrett. “Last year, we raised money for the Boston Humane Society, one of the older animal rescue programs in the country, and the year before that was for Veterans Inc. out of Worcester, raising money for homeless veterans, and it goes on and on,” he continued.

“We’ve never been a band that sticks its head in the sand and says ‘please enjoy the music, and we aren’t going to notice what’s going on around us,’ whether it was the Safe and Sound compilation (which raised money and awareness after a 1994 attack on a women’s health clinic in Brookline killed two receptionists), or the Anti Racist Action Group that we’ve been involved with, all the way up to the modern day. All of us, individually, have our own charities and organizations that are near and dear to our hearts, and we collectively bring those to the table, with none being more important than the next,” said Barrett.

While Barrett and the rest of the Bosstones are very open about the causes that are important to the band, Barrett himself likes to keep his charitable endeavors on the down low, and more for humility’s sake than just not wanting to talk about it.

“I like to keep where I donate to and who I work with personal, because the minute you start saying ‘I give a lot to this cause,’ you have a lot of people giving you the ‘that’s bulls—t, why don’t you care about people with cancer’ attitude, which I do,” said Barrett. “On an individual basis, that’s very personal, but now what we do as a band, in order to raise money at the Hometown Throwdown, we have to tell people what we’re raising the money for. I choose to keep what I donate, personally, to myself, because that can come across as, ‘hey, look what I’m doing, I’m such a great guy,’” he continued.

For Barrett, it all comes down to one core principle of helping people: “Anything you are doing to make the world we live in a better place is worth it.”

Tickets for Hometown Throwdown 19, the Bosstones annual Holiday show at the House of Blues, from Dec. 28–30 is on sale now.

Top