Joseph Aaron Fick - "Slick" Joe Fick

December 28 1976, Tacoma, WA

Doghouse Fiddle & Vocals

Following in the musical footsteps of my two older siblings, I took an interest in classical music at a very young age and began private violin lessons at age five. It was around this time that I met who I often refer to as "my best friend in the whole wide world" Bradley Dean Birkedahl. Though stylistically our musical tastes differed (Brad being a huge Elvis Presley fan), we both desired to play music and eventually began playing together. Throughout elementary school I "fiddled about" with the violin, piano, cello, and the acoustic guitar and listened to a wide array of musical styles including big band jazz, classical, pop, and punk rock from older sister's record collection.

By jr. high school Brad and I were taking guitar lessons together from local guitarist/bassist Steve Woolsey and had formed a band with former drummer Mike Moffitt called The Dempseys (named after our eighth grade English teacher Howard Dempsey who resembles Ted Koppel from ABC's Niteline). Brad and I were guitarists and we were in search of someone to play the thankless role of "bassist." My knowledge of bass players at this time was somebody like John Paul Jones who stood in the back and was overshadowed by his musical counterparts. I decided to be the sacrificial lamb and switch to bass in order to get the ball rolling and the band gigging, not to mention Brad was a much better player than I was so it seemed like the right decision. My logic told me if I could fake my way through six strings then four strings was going to be more practical and manageable and I would have a fighting chance.

My first electric bass was an Ibanez Roadstar 2 that I bought used. It had a P Bass shape, two pickups, and was red with a white pickguard and I played it with a giant triangular bass pick. By the time I was fifteen our band was playing wherever we could find people to listen including the school cafeteria, coffee shops, and street markets. Most of these gigs were stripped down and acoustic in order not to drive people off and many were outdoor without the use of amplification. This setback gave me the idea for the upright bass. If we were playing mostly acoustic then all I would need is the bass; no amp, no power, no problem (well, maybe transportation), plus it looked really cool. My mom called music stores around town inquiring about upright basses and found a dealer just north of Tacoma in Des Moines called Hammond Ashley. It was there that we rented an old plywood Kay Bass which we ended up buying later. It was sunburst and sounded really full for an acoustic instrument. Over the next few months I played that bass constantly getting my fair share of blood blisters and torn skin but realizing that there was no going back to the electric bass; if I was going to excel at this instrument then I would have to overlook the pain that my hands went through and the awkwardness and size of the instrument. Soundwise, however, the "new addition" to the band fit like a glove.

The first song we played with upright bass was Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up"... Man, that walking bass line sounded great and very authentic. It was also during this time that Brad had introduced me to the Sun Records of Elvis Presley and more importantly his upright bassist Bill Black via the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show footage. For someone that had been brought up playing Mozart and Beethoven in the orchestra you can understand my curiosity in Bill Black's slapped bass technique. It was raw, energetic, and rhythmic plus he added the comedic element to the band; a true performer. Somebody once told me that your instrument and the way you play it are an extension of your personality, well I could definitely identify with the "doghouse" bass and the way Bill Black thumped it. Throughout high school we forged ahead in a more rockabilly direction learning most of the Elvis Presley fifties catalog which Brad had been singing since he was a kid and adding other material like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Eddie Cochran tunes into the mix.

By my freshman year at the University of Washington I had enrolled in several music theory courses as well as jazz history but my focus outside of school had been learning this bass technique. For starters, I listened to practically the entire sun records rockabilly catalog studying the playing of not only Bill Black but Clayton Perkins, Marshall Grant, Marvin Pepper, and Marcus Van Story as well as "non-Sun acts" such as Bill Haley and The Comets, The Rock & Roll Trio, and Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps. Brad made available to me footage of Elvis and The Blue Moon Boys on the Steve Allen Show, Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, and The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show as well as the feature length films "Jailhouse Rock", "Loving You", and "King Creole." I spent hours studying the records and film footage (when I probably should have been studying for exams) of Bill Black learning his "licks" and his antics. Years later I would have the opportunity to portray Bill Black in the bio-pic "Walk The Line" which was an absolute honor and thrill.

Digging deeper into the history of the upright bass and American music in general I discovered Willie Dixon the great blues songwriter and Chess Records session bassist as well as jazz bassist Milt Hinton who played with countless musicians such as Cab Calloway. Both bassists were great musicians and both approached the slap bass technique in a fun and creative way (much of my soloing technique comes directly from these two bassists). Slam Stewart's singing bow technique, Charles Mingus' use of slap bass in jazz, and Louis Vola's slap technique under Django Reinhardt's gypsy guitar have also been very influential.

By 1996, The Dempseys were a traditional rockabilly trio (with new addition Ron Perrone on the drums) complete with greasy pompadours (hence the name "Slick"), matching outfits reminiscent of The Blue Moon Boys, and a vintage rockabilly sound a la Sun Records. It was this same year that we were invited to open several shows in Memphis, Tennessee for Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore, and D.J. Fontana. This has remained one of the greatest moments in my musical career; getting the opportunity to sit down and listen to these legends tell their stories, watching them perform up close, and getting to pick their brains about music was quite a thrill. To this day I continue to stay in touch with both Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana on a regular basis.

In 1998, I toured with the legendary Paul Burlison of The Rock & Roll Trio and that same year relocated to Memphis with The Dempseys. We began playing five nights a week at Elvis Presley's Memphis on Beale Street where we concentrated on improving our musical chops and developing our live show into the three ring circus act that it is today. After the closing of Elvis Presley's Memphis in September of 2003, The Dempseys headed across the street and set up shop at world famous Blues City Cafe, one of my favorite watering holes. I have been playing weekly at Blues City Cafe on average about 4 nights a week since EPM's closing and have loved every minute of it. This gig, as well as our Sunday night regular gig at Huey's in Memphis and our monthly weekend at Rippy's in Nashville helped the group build a fan base from all over the country being that Beale Street and Lower Broadway are heavily trafficked by tourists and locals. The group also began to play corporate events, festivals, weddings and averaged around 250 dates a year. Since moving to Memphis I have had the opportunity to perform and record with legendary musicians such as Cordell Jackson, J.M. Van Eaton, Roland Janes, W.S. Holland, Wanda Jackson, Malcolm Yelvington, Billy Lee Riley, Sonny Burgess, Ace Cannon, Sanford Clark, James Burton, Ronnie Tutt, Boots Randolph, and The Jordanaires.

Over the last ten years my role in the band, besides being the clown, has been songwriting and arranging. I've enjoyed sifting through old records and obscure recordings to find potential material for the band to play and learning about American roots music through record collecting and watching live music. I also started singing more of the material in the set in order to take the burden of a four hour/ three set night off of Brad and also to add a different dynamic to the group. My favorite songs are the ones in which we harmonize together (often called brother harmony) like "Bottle of Beer and A Slot Machine" and "Lightning In a Jug." The band labels itself "rockabilly" but that is a very narrow description and in the last several years has incorporated western swing, jazz, bluegrass, surf, doo-wop, hillbilly, country, Dixieland, and even singing cowboy songs.

The songwriting on the first album "Drinking Songs for Your Grandparents" was straight ahead rockabilly influenced by the sounds of Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup, and Joe Maphis to name a few. The latest record "Radio Friendly Hits for Your D.J. to Play" included a more eclectic sound borrowing from Bakersfield bumpkins Buck Owens and Don Rich to chicken picker James Burton to the Dixieland sounds of Louis Armstrong to the singing cowboy laments of Sons of the Pioneers. It has been a pleasure to perform and record with Brad and Ron over the last ten years and the creativity, spirit, and passion is always 110% from these boys.

I would like to take this last bit of rambling to thank all of the fans over last few years for your love and support. It has been a hell of a journey and I look forward to entertaining you like trained monkey very soon.

Career Highlights

  • Receiving the key to City of Tupelo MS, birthplace of Elvis Presley - 1998
  • Performed in Bass Trio with Dave Roe and Kevin Smith at Rockin' at the Ryman rockabilly tribute - 2001
  • Backing up Elvis on the big screen at the 25th Anniversary Concert in the Pyramid - 2002
  • Featured in March 2003 edition of Bass Player Magazine
  • Opening act for The Stray Cats in Gijon, Spain - 2004
  • Playing the role of Bill Black in the 20th Century Fox film "Walk The Line" - 2005
  • Entertained President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in June 2006
  • The Dempseys were awarded Beale Street's Entertainers of the Year 2009

Favorite Bassists


  • Bill Black
  • Bob Moore
  • Marshall Grant
  • Dorsey Burnette
  • Marshall Lytle
  • Marcus Van Story
  • Lee Rocker
  • Dave Roe
  • Kevin Smith

Jazz/ Blues

  • Pops Foster
  • Slam Stewart
  • Milt Hinton
  • Paul Chambers
  • Ray Brown
  • Neils Pederson
  • Alex Blake
  • Willie Dixon
  • Charles Mingus
  • Louis Vola

Favorite Vocalists

  • Jerry Reed
  • Screamin' Jay Hawkins
  • Charlie Feathers
  • Don Rich
  • Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Dorsey Burnette
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Ray Campi
  • Tommy Duncan
  • Slim Gaillard
  • Danny Elfman
  • Elvis Presley
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • George Jones
  • Waylon Jennings

Favorite Drink

Gin & Tonic