Five individual Irish musicians and entertainers come together in this high-spirited collection of true stories of life on the road. It's all here; the bars, the gigs, the guitars, the audiences and the occasional fights; the hotels, club owners and the odd-ball characters met along the way; the women, the camaraderie, the music and more.
These guys are the real thing, each of them years in the business and still out there performing in the “trenches.” It is an authentic, long-overdue chronicle of a wonderful way of life and an endangered art form.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of my life as an entertainer was sharing experiences with friends-my peers in the business. Along with exchanging information about equipment, guitars, and new clubs, we regaled one another with our adventures on the road. Over a jar, we would catch up, laugh, commiserate, and sometimes lament. The idea for the book took hold. Late in that summer of 2001, I decided to give it a go. All I had to do was pick my collaborators.
I met Robbie O'Connell in the late seventies. A nephew of the Clancy Brothers, his musical pedigree was unimpeachable. I spent a good deal of time at his house, where we sat and talked about music, listened to it, and played it. He had a sunny nature, and he loved to laugh. I loved to make him laugh and sometimes play the odd trick on him. He had two children then, and I would get down on the floor with them and play. Robbie and his wife Roxanne would hover and remark how wonderful Dennis was with kids. We'd have a riotous time, and then I would say goodnight. Of course, I had the kids so wound up by then it took an hour to settle them down and get them into bed. Robbie didn't make the connection for a long time, until one night, I was set for a romp with them and the light of realization illuminated his face. He grabbed me by the shoulders and forced me to the door. “Get out of here, you bastard. I'm on to you now.”
Once, we were working separate clubs in DC, and we shared a by-the-week flat in Arlington, Virginia. It wasn't in the best of areas and we were a bit nervous about break-ins. When we left, Robbie would lean through the door and shout into the empty room, loud enough for the whole building to hear, “Remember to feed the dogs, darlin'. You know how vicious they can get.” Read more about Robbie at his website.
Seamus Kennedy. He was one of the most colorful characters I have ever seen on stage. He played and sang beautifully, and his wit was quick and acerbic. Hecklers had no chance. I went to his gigs at Liam's and stood in awe at his ability to work a crowd. One night, I watched him do a ninety-minute set in front of a packed house. It was masterful. One of the bar regulars standing beside me said, “Are you watching this? He's got them in the palm of his hand.”
“I'm watching,” I replied, “and I'm taking notes.”
Frank Emerson was the most intense guy I'd ever seen on stage. He'd close his eyes and sing in his rich baritone, and be in another world. I used to see him a lot when he partnered with Tony O'Riordan, a gas character in his own right. Over the years, performing solo, Frank developed an amazing repertoire. He was a walking jukebox, and he put stirring shows together for special occasions-the Easter Rebellion in Dublin in 1916 and notably, American holidays, like the Fourth of July and Veteran's Day. Songs, stories, and poems of the valor of the American soldier in war would fill the room, thrilling the audience, often bringing them to tears.
I didn't meet Harry O'Donoghue until the late eighties, although I knew him by reputation. I saw him perform at the Kevin Barry Pub in Savannah. He was an all-around good entertainer. Like Seamus, he could stop the music, and one joke after another would roll off his tongue. His sometimes dry, sardonic take on life's irregularities was comfortably aligned with a compassion and romanticism that shone in his stage shows and original songs. He could tell a story, so I figured he could write one as well.