There is absolutely no shame in The Dickens’ game.
The Greensboro-based band is the type of musical collective that can rock a college or a nightclub one night and, the next day, get decked out in tuxedos and play a wedding. They play a lot of weddings, actually. In the past two years, they’ve played 60 of them.
“People know that we’re gonna bring a party, you know,” says drummer Frank Pyrtle, on the phone from Greensboro. “We’re gonna play something that they’ll like. It’s not gonna be just one thing that we do. They’ll be entertained.”
Yes, The Dickens is an all-purpose cover band that plays everything and anything for whoever hires them. And to think, when they first got together nine years ago, they weren’t even about playing cover tunes. Pyrtle, guitarist Fran Sandifer and bassist Steve Graham were part of a group back in the ’90s that eventually disbanded. As the trio began playing for other cover bands in the Greensboro area, they decided to get back together for an original side project. They soon recruited singer Percy Womack to handle lead vocals.
“Basically, once we got in and started playing, we felt, well, we can also play some cover tunes together and work on originals and play covers at the same time,” says Pyrtle. “And once we did that, nine years later, we never got back to the original part of it.”
Leaving their fellow bandmates behind wasn’t a problem, since they all felt what they had together was better. “I think we all felt like the chemistry we did have with those guys never matched any group or pairing that we could ever, you know, put together,” says Pyrtle. “And there was just something special. Sometimes, you can get the best players and you can handpick them and try to put them together. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna play well together.”
As they began playing as The Dickens, word-of-mouth soon spread about the group and their knack for playing more than standard cover-band tunes. “We were definitely different than anything else that was going on at the time,” says Pyrtle. “There were no bands really doing any hip-hop at the time. But there were definitely no bands doing hip-hop and metal in the same show, and reggae in the same show and some R&B. We always had something for everybody.”
Working from an extensive collection of songs (“I mean, there are probably 300-plus songs that we can draw from at any given time,” says Pyrtle), The Dickens practically serve as a four-man, human jukebox. “We’ve always had the idea of, you know, a live band/DJ concept, to where we kind of keep the party moving, whether it’s up-tempo or low-tempo,” he says. “We don’t like to stop. We don’t like to do a bunch of talking. We like to keep the music flowing.”
Thanks to their reputation for keeping the music flowing, The Dickens have been been flown in to such places as New York, California and Colorado, as well as doing tours in and around the state, so people can get their groove on. Pyrtle says the band enjoys the fact that they’re making a nice living just getting together and playing music that they dig.
“Well, we just wanted to play stuff that we all liked, you know,” he says. “We all liked lots of different music. In the beginning, we had no idea that we were gonna be as popular a cover band as we were. I mean, we knew we were gonna put together a really good band. And we knew that we could do whatever corporate and wedding-type clients would want to do, because we’ve done that before as well.”
In the end, The Dickens have no qualms about playing anywhere – just as long as they’re making people dance. “They’re not just getting beat up by a dance beat all night long,” says Pyrtle. “They’re actually going on, maybe, a musical journey.”