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Original Dropkick Murphys guitarist finds new music in band with son

WANT TO GO?

Continental

With The Spurgie Hankins Band

WHEN: 10 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: The Empty Glass, 410 Elizabeth St.

COST: Advance $6, at the door $8

INFO: 304-345-3914 or www.facebook.com/ContinentalBand

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rick Barton exemplifies the cliché that old habits are hard to break. The 51-year old Quincy, Mass., native and founding member of Boston-based Irish punk band Dropkick Murphys tried to abandon his musical career a few years ago and focus on his day jobs -- house painting and recording bands.

But the stay-at-home lifestyle didn't take for Barton, who was used to being in a band, living out of a van, touring nonstop, being broke and loving (almost) every minute of it. So, with help from his teenage son, Stephen, he started all over again.

"Two years ago, I made a conscious effort to dedicate my entire life to my music," Barton said over the phone.

"My second wife had given me the boot," he said, laughing. "I was going to get into producing bands, but my son had heard some of my most recent material and he was like, 'Dad, you've got to play that music. I'll put a band together, and you come down and show us the songs. Even if you don't want to do it, we want to play your music.'"

Fast-forward two years. Barton fronts Continental, which also includes his now 21-year-old son Stephen on bass and Stephen's friends from high school, 23-year olds Dave DePrest on guitar and Tommy Mazalewski. The band plays The Empty Glass on Tuesday, as part of a two-week tour of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. It has toured the United States and Canada, released a seven-song EP and will release a full-length debut album this summer.

It's that hard-scrabble life of being in an upstart band, building a fan base one show at a time, sleeping where you can and still connecting with people as a musician that Barton couldn't abandon.

"People take me and my little dog, Brutus, in -- or we sleep in the van. Right now, we're off the road for seven or eight days and, strangely enough, I'm staying with my first wife and her husband. They took me in," Barton said, laughing at the seeming insanity of such a situation.

Continental is closer to the working-class roots rock of The Boss than any Irish influences of something like the Dropkick Murphys. In it, Barton gets to share band life with his son -- and out on the road, things get real, real fast, he said.

"It's hell," Barton deadpanned. "We love each other, but what I realize has happened is, he's seen the real me, and he challenges me and contests me on everything from my decision making to my lifestyle.

"It's brutal," he said with another chuckle.

"He's put me up on a pedestal, and I've fallen from that pedestal. Right now, everything is business. I have to take time every week or so, and I say 'Stephen, come over here,' and I give him a hug and tell him I love him. We almost don't look at each other as father and son anymore, because we're two working bandmates now.

"But now he sees my mission and how steadfast and determined I am, and I think it's an asset. He's recognizing that and accepting me as the person he didn't really know. I think it was hard for him at first. At first, we used to fight a lot but, this last tour, we fought very little. Out on the road, anything goes. I speak my mind, we argue about politics. It's kind of cool. At first, I didn't think it was going to work out, but we're starting to get along a lot more.

"It's been a trying process, having your son in the band. I'm not going to lie and say, 'Oh it's great.' It's not. It's hard. It's a relationship, and relationships are hard. People who say they're not, I think they're lying."

Barton said he and the Continental members as a whole are excited to get their full-length debut out in a few months and then will tour Europe.

Now that he's living the life of a traveling band and is excited about his music all over again, life is good -- despite the struggles.

"Presently, I'm in a band with my son and these younger guys, and we're all on the same page, and none of them whines or expects any money. They understand that we sleep on people's floors, and we're very happy to go play our music. And that's success in itself. It's not monetary; it's just phenomenal.

"It's a miracle. It's a gift," Barton continued, describing this almost improbable coming-out-of-retirement project. "Most of my peers' guitars are collecting dust in the closet. This is unbelievable, to be 51 years old and still making music. I can't believe this is happening for me. I'm lucky, very lucky."

Contact Nick Harrah at wvrockscene@gmail.com.


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