The Hamlet, Johnstownbridge, Ireland

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Edge and Larry Mullen play a second show with The Drifting Cowboys, their first paid gigs as musicians.

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In 2019 Bono spoke about Larry and The Edge playing with an Irish Country band called “The Drifting Cowboys.” We’ve done a little digging and wanted to share a bit more about the band. In an interview with BP Fallon in 1992, The Edge was asked “Have you ever told a lie?” His reply:

“Oh yes. The biggest one is “ Yes I can play” when I got my first paying gig, playing with The Drifting Cowboys. They were a country band who played in the heartland of Ireland, doing songs by people I hated at the time, people like George Jones and Hank Williams who since I’ve grown to love. Larry and myself played a few gigs with them, and my brother Dik too. Larry fell asleep one New Year’s Eve at 3 a.m. playing the drums and nobody noticed.”

The Drifting Cowboys predates U2. They had been doing gigs around Dublin, and started popping up doing shows in May 1976. The band take their name from the backing band that Hank Williams played with, but it is not the same band. Eric Stone fronted the band as lead singer. The band was based in Dublin, started playing shows in Dublin and expanded to play the towns just outside of Dublin as they got their start. It is unknown what happened to the band, but it is known that they did play shows up until 1984.

Answering questions ahead of The Joshua Tree 2017 tour, the band were asked about the Dalton Brothers. “Very few people know actually, Larry and I got paid for performing for the very first time in a country band. Country music was huge in Ireland, still is. I bought a guitar from a fellow called Eric Stone, who had a band called Drifting Cowboys. He approached me and said “would you and your drummer like to come and play?” Our agent made a couple of bookings, so Larry and me got paid for the very first time for climbing on stage performing country songs. This would have been about ’77. We were children. We got ten quid each. Which was big.”

The band were discussed quite a bit during The Joshua Tree anniversary tours after that question. During the 2017 tour, Bono brought up the Drifting Cowboys and stated that Larry and Edge played in the band when they were 14 and 15. But it was on the 2019 tour that Bono brought up the band on many nights including shows in Auckland, Melbourne, Perth and Manila. In the discussion which preceded “Trip through Your Wires” Bono would ask them about their time in the band. Edge and Larry would then talk about their time with the band sharing:

  • Edge had been given advice by Eric Stone that there is no money in rock and roll and they should give up U2 to do the country thing full time.
  • Stone told Edge that if he switched to country they could make a fortune on bookings that Stone had to turn down.
  • Larry learned how to play the fox trot
  • Larry also learned how to sleep playing the fox trot.
  • Adam Clayton claims he didn’t pass the audition for the Drifting Cowboys
  • Pay in the Drifting Cowboys was 11 pounds and a free drink each night

That New Year’s Eve show that Larry famously fell asleep behind the drum kit? The Drifting Cowboys played a New Year’s Eve show on December 31, 1976 at The Hamlet, located in Johnstownbridge, in Kildare. (About a 50 minute drive to the West of Dublin.) It’s the only show that fits the timeline, and there is no listing of them having played a New Year’s Eve show in 1977 itself, and by that time Edge and Larry had been paid to perform at their own shows. The Edge mentioned they had done a couple of bookings with the band, so it is likely that they also played the January 2, 1976 show at the same venue.

In 2015, The Edge joked that he and Larry Mullen had plans to do a secret show in a bar in Boston, “Myself and Larry were going to do one in a little bar, but unfortunately I couldn’t get in. They wouldn’t let me in.” The Edge was refused entry to a bar for a lack of ID, but it is unknown whether or not he and Larry had intentions to play. But Larry did add, “We were going to be under the name The Drifting Cowboys.”

If Edge and Larry played with The Drifting Cowboys beyond a couple of shows it is unknown. But we’ve listed a few other shows from around that time below:

  • November 12, 1976: Dolly’s Lounge, Mulhuddart
  • November 13, 1976: Tudor Tavern, Edenderry
  • December 4, 1976: The Hamlet, Johnstownbridge
  • December 9, 1976: Greyhound Bar, Duleek
  • December 31, 1976: The Hamlet, Johnstownbridge
  • January 2, 1977: The Hamlet, Johnstownbridge
  • January 22, 1977: Tudor Tavern, Edenderry
  • January 23, 1977: Sally Gardens Lounge, Ballisodare
  • January 28, 1977: The Hamlet, Johnstownbridge
  • February 6, 1977: Tudor Tavern, Edenderry
  • February 11, 1977: Country Club, Dunshaughlin

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