Welcome to The Dean’s List! The Dean’s List will profile up-and-comers in Memphis who are certain to be the next group of leaders in the nonprofit, corporate, government, and faith communities. The Dean’s List is curated by Kevin Dean.
When Brad Birkedahl was a child growing up in Tacoma, WA, he was raised on a mix of music that would eventually shape the course of his life. While his parents weren’t musicians, they were great lovers of music, playing legends like Boxcar Willie, Bobby Darren, Dean Martin, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard. One musician, Elvis Presley, (maybe you’ve heard of him) served as the ultimate role model to Brad as he joined various bands as a teenager.
In 1996, Brad and his rockabilly band, The Dempseys, were invited to Memphis to perform at an Elvis tribute show starring Carl Perkins. Because of the trip to Memphis, the band was invited to serve as the house band at the Beale Street club Elvis Presley’s Memphis (now Hard Rock Cafe). He happily relocated to the city of his musical idol and has been rocking venues throughout the Mid-South ever since.
Memphis has been good to Brad, now 39. He had a part in the movie Walk The Line, married former WMC-TV news anchor Anna Marie Hartman, and is a mainstay on Beale Street. In addition to being a full-time musician, Brad owns his own tour company called Rockabilly Rides. He and his business partner give private tours of Memphis in a 1959 Ford Skyliner and 1955 Chevy Bel Air.
We chose Brad for The Dean’s List because of his passion for Memphis music and his status as an ambassador of Memphis to tourists as a performer and tour guide.
If you could describe your feelings about Memphis in three words, what would they be?
Musically eclectic and inspirational.
As a musician, why do you choose Memphis over a place like Los Angeles or Nashville?
The music I play is appreciated here more than any in other city. Much of it was written and recorded here or was inspired by musicians who got there start right here in Memphis.
What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened at one of your shows?
I’m Norwegian and a couple of months ago I got to my gig on Beale and a group my of relatives I never even knew existed traveled all the way from Norway to surprise me. They had been following me on Facebook and I never knew it. They brought pictures of my dad as a young boy. It was weird and wonderful.
Name three people you view as the most talented performers in Memphis.
That’s a tough one, there are so many!! I am so proud of all the members of my own band. I think they are some of the best musicians Memphis has to offer. If I must pick three let’s just say when I’m off and want to go hear music I like to check out Zack Mack, Joe Restivo, Brennan Villines.
What’s the one Memphis restaurant you couldn’t live without?
I think you know the answer to this one: Cafe Eclectic. (Editor’s Note: We see one another every week at Cafe Eclectic, as we are both addicted to their coffee and relaxed vibe.)
What makes Memphis different from other cities?
To borrow a phrase, the grit and grind. It’s a huge city with a small town feel. We have our problems, sure. But we have such a great history, and I’ve been able to build both my businesses, my music, and my tour company around the Memphis history that makes it so great.
What’s the one misconception people have about Memphis that is simply untrue?
I think a lot of people believe there’s nothing to do here. Wow, really?
What area of town is your favorite and why?
I love Midtown. No matter where I go, I see someone I know. During a typical night out, dinner for two can easily turn into dinner for ten as you run into people along the way. I’m so excited about the revitalization of Overton Square. It’s our home away from home these days.
What can Memphians do to make a difference in our community?
Get involved! Volunteer. Appreciate Memphis history. Support local music and business and get to know your neighbors.
What is one thing you’re most excited about for Memphis?
The rebirth of Crosstown and the surrounding community.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Elvis Presley for president. (Editor’s note: Probably not, Brad.)