One of the most flamboyant, exciting and popular of Irish showbands, the Dixies was a strong live attraction and enjoyed considerable chart success in Eire during the 60s. They had first come together as the Dixielanders and, in 1954, played in a jazz band led by clarinettist Sean Lucey, and featured trombonist Theo Cahill (b. Eire, d. 24 July 1988, County Mayo, Eire) and the outrageous drummer Joe McCarthy (b. August 1936, Eire). They soon became a five-piece with the addition of pianist Mick Murphy and trumpeter Larry Neville. Inspired by the Clipper Carlton, they played a varied set and by the end of the 50s had added bass player Chris O’Mahony, second saxophonist and vocalist Jimmy Mintern and guitarist Steve Lynch. Neville, meanwhile, had been replaced by John Sheehan (b. Eire, d. 1999) and Murphy by Finbar O’Leary (b. Eire, d. 2002).
In 1961, after an exceptional performance at the Olympia Ballroom in Waterford (where they rivalled the Royal Showband), the unit turned professional. Determined to magnify their appeal, they replaced Mintern with vocalist Brendan O’Brien (d. 3 April 2008, Blackpool, Eire), who rapidly became one of the most popular singers on the showband circuit. A record contract with Decca Records saw the release of the Cahill-composed instrumental ‘Cyclone’ in 1963. Soon afterwards, the Dixies were in the Irish charts with ‘Christmas Time’, followed by ‘I’m Counting On You’ and ‘It’s Only Make Believe’. During 1964, they appeared at Carnegie Hall and returned home as conquering heroes. The departure of Sheehan during this period reduced the band to a septet.
O’Brien was enamoured with Buddy Holly, and introduced his music to a new generation of listeners with chart hits including ‘Oh Boy’, ‘Peggy Sue’ and ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’. With O’Brien’s strong vocal talents and McCarthy’s acrobatic, zany comedy, the band were a marvellously complementary unit. With over 20 Irish hits to their credit, including the engaging ‘Katie’s Kisses’ and a chart-topping cover of Leapy Lee’s ‘Little Arrows’, they ended the 60s by transferring their attentions to Las Vegas. Lucrative bookings followed, but, as with many of the top showbands of the era, they split in the early 70s. The mainstays of the band, O’Brien and McCarthy, formed the aptly named Stage Two, while the remainder of the band continued with new vocalist Sandie Jones. Their ‘Ceol An Ghra’ represented Ireland in the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest and reached number 1 in the Irish charts, before Jones was replaced by a succession of vocalists including Joe O’Toole, Rory O’Connor, and Tara.
By the mid-70s, the remaining members of the original line-up had moved on. In the early 80s, O’Brien, Lynch, O’Mahony, McCarthy, Lucey and Cahill reunited for a series of shows, with Teddy Moynihan replacing the absent O’Leary. Terry McCarthy took over from O’Brien in 1985, but the latter returned to the line-up at the end of the decade. Various personnel changes followed before the Dixies finally called it a day in 1999.