All About the
(1954-1975 & 1982-1992)
Photo Gallery -
Band Lineups -
- Audio samples -
Where Are They Now?
Part I - The Dixielanders
story of the Dixies begins to take shape in 1954 when three friends,
Joe McCarthy (drums), Sean Lucey (clarinet) and Theo Cahill
(trombone) decided to put together a little jazz group. They needed
a piano player and clarinet to complete the lineup and found Larry
Neville (trumpet) and Mick Murphy to handle the keys. The five piece
band enjoyed moderate success locally around Cork and finally got
their name when they were asked to do a gig at University College
Cork. When asked their name, Joe recalls, "We said, we don't have a
name, but we play Dixieland jazz." The students advertised the band
as the "Dixielanders" and the rest is history.
All the members had day jobs and it was very
much a part time effort, playing local boating clubs and school
dances. As with many of the semi pro bands of the day, the band's
big break came when they became the resident band at the Arcadia
Ballroom in Cork. It was during this time that they really came of
age musically and developed their trademark comedy routines. At
first trying to imitate the Saturday Night Juke Box routine of the
Clipper Carlton and then discovering Joe McCarthy's natural talent
for comedy. Joe, who had been an apprentice upholsterer, had always
been a quick wit and a practical joker. With their regular gig at the Arcadia, the
band now needed
to expand the lineup to provide a fuller sound for dancers.
They made a few changes to the lineup, adding
Jimmy Mintern on sax and lead vocals and Chris O'Mahony on bass. As
the band became more proficient, more lineup changes were
inevitable. John Sheehan joined on trumpet in 1959, replacing Larry
Neville. Steve Lynch was brought in on guitar to provide a rock n'
roll sound when needed and by 1960, the boys were ready to go
professional. Promoter Jim Aiken had heard about the boys though the
grapevine and booked them on a tour of the country. Everybody was
excited about the prospect of turning pro, except Jimmy who didn't
have a trade like the other lads to fall back on, should things not
go so well on the road. Not wanting to take the gamble, he didn't go
on the tour and they asked a young, good looking singer, Brendan
O'Brien to stand in on vocals. Brendan had previously been with
the Johnny Byrne Showband, but had given it up to pursue a career as
an architect at age 19. Sean Lucey asked him to come with the band.
II - The Dixies
tour went very well and in 1961, Brendan was invited to become a
fully fledged member of the band singing and playing rhythm guitar.
In September, 1961, the band turned pro and word of their success
spread quickly. In keeping with their new image as a "showband,"
they shortened their name from the Dixielanders to The
Dixies. In a 2012 interview, Joe Mac recounted the change saying
"people just got used to shortening it to the Dixies and it stuck."
Soon, the band "with the exiting lead singer and zany
drummer" were drawing record crowds in ballrooms across the country.
Peter Prendergast, owner of the Arcadia took over booking the band
from Sean Lucey and Jimmy decided to join another local group.
Peter turned out to be an excellent promoter,
something for which managers have often been overlooked. The band
would be advertised as having made "personal appearances" in places
like Paris and Rome and the boys would fly to the cities and mail
postcards to all the DJ's and journalists in Ireland, proving they
had been in these exotic European capitals. The PR paid off and the
band continued to grow in success and reputation.
In 1963, the band made its recording debut with
the instrumental Cyclone written by Theo. He also wrote the B
side, The Mardyke, and on May 17, 1963 the band released the
record on the Decca label. The record did well locally, but failed
to make inroads in Dublin. A couple of months later, they got their
first TV appearance on the now legendary RTE television series,
The Showband Show.
It wasn't until the band released Christmas
Time, at the end of 1963 that they entered the charts. By the
end of the following year, after two Top Ten records, Brendan
O'Brien and the Dixies we well on their way. The mid sixties were a period of fame and
prosperity for the lads from Cork. Although they spent more time in
their bandwagon than most bands on the circuit, they continued to
draw record crowds and recorded 27 singles, most of which were top
ten hits through 1970. In 1964, the band signed with PYE Records and
had two Top Ten Hits. Brendan was now in the same league as Dickie
Rock and Brendan Bowyer. In either 1964 or early 1965, John Sheehan
left the band and he was not replaced, leaving them as a seven
In 1968, the band had its biggest hit with
Little Arrows, which reached Number 1 on September 7th and
stayed in the charts for twenty weeks. Like their major rivals, The
Royal, the Dixies were looking further a field for success and in
1969, they made the trek to Las Vegas where they became one of the only
other showbands (other than the Royal) to be accepted by the casino
capital's promoters. In 1969 and again in 1970, they worked extended
residencies in the Desert Inn.
In January, 1969, buoyed by the success of
Little Arrows, the Dixies took what seemed like the next logical
step, they formed their own record label, Honey Records. The first
release on the new label was Cuando Sali De Cuba by the Michael
O'Callaghan Big Band featuring Eleanor Nodwell. Also in 1969, they took over the management of several bands
including Two's Company, The Waves and the Arrivals Showband, as
well as acquiring a dancehall in London. Their empire was
In July, 1970 the Dixies went to Las Vegas,
appearing at Howard Hughes' Desert Inn. When the Dixies returned from Vegas in 1970,
they were flying high but things would soon change. The showband
scene was in a major state of transition in the early seventies.
The Sands had already split from Dickie Rock and the Miami, Butch
Moore was gone from the Capitol and suddenly Brendan Bowyer and Tom
Dunphy were leaving the Royal to form the Big 8.
Part III - Life without Brendan and Joe
In January of 1972,
Brendan and Joe followed many of their contemporaries and broke from
the band that had guided their careers for over a decade. They
formed Stage Two, and like the
Royal, the Miami
and the Capitol, the original magic was gone
and the Dixies had to rebuild. The
new band included several top notch musicians including Mike
Nolan (trumpet-ex Billy Brown Superband) and Ernie Durkin
With the departure of Brendan and Joe, the band
brought in a new drummer and a young male vocalist, Joe O'Toole, who
had been playing the Dublin cabaret scene. They also added a girl
singer to the lineup, Sandie Jones who had previously been with the
Royal Earls. Within a few months, Sandie represented Ireland at Eurovision singing Ceol
an Ghra which went to number one, a major boost for her and the
band. Along with frontman, Joe O'Toole, the band had several hit
records. In May, they followed up with
another Number 1, What Do I Do. So despite losing the two
musicians who had been the driving force behind the band's success,
they were once again on top with two consecutive number one records.
Unfortunately, the band's new found success would not
last long. In January, 1973, Sandie Jones left
the band, but we can not find a reason for her departure, except
that it appears it was not on good grounds between her and the band.
She was gone for the best part of two months, but an article in Spotlight's March 22, 1973 issue
announced Sandie was back with the band. Eventually, a few months
later, she would leave
to form her own band, The Boyfriends.
Also in January
1973, it was announced that Finbar O'Leary was leaving the band,
leaving Sean Lucey as the last
"original member" of the band. Interestingly, in early
1973, the band changed their name to "Dixies Nashville Brass" on
their advertisements. An attempt, we think, to try and re-brand
themselves and move away from the "showband" image of the band?
Around this time, Steve Lynch also left the band and went into the
cabaret scene as a solo artist. We are trying to find out who
replaced him in the band. However we do know that Steve moved into
management, handling the affairs of Sandie Jones' Boyfriends
and his brother, Pat Lynch, in cabaret.
As an aside, in May, 1975, a blurb in
Spotlight announced Sandie Jones was leaving Steve Lynch's
management to sign with Gerry Daly of the Tommy Hayden office. It
also announced she was leaving the showband circuit for cabaret like
so many of her contemporaries.
In January 1974,
an article in New Spotlight magazine announced the recruitment of Rory
O'Connor to join Joe O'Toole as front man with the Dixies. He was
born in Waterford, but had been singing on the English cabaret
the band's popularity continued to wane and in May, 1974,
they made the biggest change to a band's look since the Casino
Showband donned feathers to become The Indians. They
painted their faces black and went on the road as The Black and
White Dixie Minstrel Show. Echoing back to the days of Al
Jolson, the band released a record which included a medley of Oh
Suzanna and Camptown Races. They had a chart hit with the song,
Stranger in My Place in June that reached number 13 on the
Irish charts. However, the experiment was doomed to fail and by
year's end, the band had reverted to The Dixies. Although they had
another minor hit with Una Paloma Blanca in the summer of
1975, they soon called it quits and the Dixies were no more. We do
know that in 1976, Joe O'Toole was with a new band, Flint and we can
find no mention of the Dixies around this time.
Meanwhile, Brendan and Joe's new band, Stage
Two had been doing quite well until a fateful night in late 1974
when Brendan was a
guest at a charity function in Cork. He grabbed a "live" microphone
while holding a guitar and was thrown ten feet across the stage. He suffered
a severe electric shock and was lucky to survive. After the incident,
Brendan was taken to the local hospital, examined and released. He even went
back to play with the band for
about a month or so. However, one night in Monaghan after a gig, he
was having problems walking, so the band took him back to the
hospital the next morning. Doctors discovered blood clots that had
been missed the night of the accident. The clots were cutting off
the blood supply to his legs, and Brendan was unable to play again
Although Stage Two continued to
play featuring Joe Mac, Alan Carr and eventually Art Supple,
Joe was finished playing by 1980 and the band folded not long after.
Joe Mac went back to a day job, first as a chauffeur and then
opening his own cafe in Cork. Also in 1980, Joe faced a personal
tragedy when his son and daughter-in-law were killed in a car
accident. He and his wife took in their four month old granddaughter
as their own and raised her.
Part IV - Reforming the Band
A couple of years later, in 1982, the idea came about to reform the
original Dixies. The reunion gig
was meant to be a one-off date on St. Stephen's Night in 1982.
However, interest in the band was tremendous after the gig in the
Arcadia Ballroom and the band decided to reform and hit the ballroom
a new lease on life, the
band was a hit again and was even invited to the United Arab
Emirates a few times to appear on tour. The band's lineup included
six of the seven original members. Finbar O'Leary, who had lived in
Dublin since the original band was on the road, decided against
going on the road again. In his place, Teddy Moynihan came in
on keyboards. The band released several singles featuring Brendan
O'Brien, who had recovered enough to join the band. Unfortunately
though, the constant stress of life on the road proved too much and
Brendan was forced to retire from the band in 1985. He was replaced
by Terry McCarthy.
On November 22nd, 1986, the Dixies
celebrated their Silver Jubilee with a major show at Cork Opera
House. On a sad note, Peter Prendergast (their former colourful
manager) passed away before the event. Peter had played a major role
in the rise in popularity of The Dixies with his publicity stunts
earning him much deserved praise. Peter had also played a part in
the comeback of the band in 1982, but as he was unwell and soon had
to bow out.
In the late eighties, the untimely
deaths of Theo Cahill and Chris O'Mahony brought more changes and
new members to the aging outfit. Finally, in 1990 the last major
change took place when Joe Mac and Teddy Moynihan left and Brendan
O'Brien came back for another try with drummer Joe Sullivan, who had
been a member of The Michael O' Callaghan Band. In fact, Joe had
recorded A Picture Of Your Mother with the Callaghan Band
ironically on the Dixies' own Honey Label (COMB.7) released
back in 1969.
The band carried on for a few more
years but with numerous changes, and it finally came to an end in
the late 90's. To this day Teddy Moynihan, his brother and Joe Mac
play together and have a number of weekly residencies in Cork City.
Addendum: Brendan O'Brien,
vocalist with the Dixies from 1964 through their final years sadly
passed away on 3rd April, 2008 at the age of 67.
Click on thumbnails for full images