Raised on the roots music of Appalachia, I caught the ‘ceol’ bug back in the early ’90’s in East Tennessee. In those days, musicians would strike up after-hours jam sessions around the Old City following the folk festival named for this soulful and beloved Knoxville neighborhood. Ran into a fiddler named Russell Hopper and a bouzouki, mando, bodhran player named Terry Schomer. As they started into some sets of jigs and reels, it felt like coming home. As a mainly bluegrass/old time style guitar player, Russell set me on the right path with some recordings of Paul Brady and Daithi Sproule. Within months of joining Russell and Terry´s monthly ‘seisiún´, I dropped into DADGAD, never to return to standard tuning.
Since moving to Buffalo in 2000, my specializations in stringed accompaniment have diversified quite a bit. First, there was the Irish bouzouki, appropriated into Irish trad thanks to the misadventures of Sweeny´s Men in the Balkans, back in the 60´s. I commissioned a five-course through accomplished luthier, Richard Beard, which I tuned DADAD. Soon after, while touring Puerto Rico with some students as part of a study tour, I happened upon a Puerto Rican cuatro, which ironically is comprised of five courses of strings tuned in octaves at the low end and and unison toward the high-end (tuned in fourths; hence, cuatro). The cuatro has been eminently flexible- fits in the overhead compartment, and I´ve never needed a capo; I´ve found rich, open chording and accessible melody ranges in any key.
I also acquired a custom-made four-course bouzouki made by Russell Hopper. Based on a Graham McDonald design, it features a guitar-shaped body, four courses that have held a nice bassey tone and pitch regardless of capo-ing. GDGD tuning has opened access to some nice, new chord voicings without making melody playing unnecessarily cumbersome. I highly recommend it for any mandolin family instrument players. You´ll find a sample below. Recently I acquired a specially commissioned, five-course, mid-scale cittern from Lawrence Nyberg, which is tuned DGDGD.
While the Nyberg cittern is currently my ´go-to´ plectrum instrument, my latest acquisition is a vintage Martin tenor guitar, which I tune CGCG. Has a soul all its own, and it has been my choice companion at Nietzsche’s, as of late.
Ever since the initial encounter with Russell and Terry back in Knoxville, I have actively promoted the Irish musical traditions. Here in Western NY, after several years of failed attempts to generate a strong, weekly trad seisiún, I launched the highly acclaimed Saturday afternoon Nietzsche´s back in 2004, thanks in large part to the support of Joe Rubino and Bill Fenzell, as well as Anne Maroney, who planted the radical thought that Nietzsche´s might be a better fit for Irish trad than the typical Irish Sports Pub. Eventually, following the success of Nietzsche´s, I was able to cultivate a semi-regular gathering, the ´First Thursday Seisiún´ at the Shannon Pub, which ran for nearly a decade until the recent closing of the venue.
From 2002-2017, WNY trad enthusiasts marked the first Sunday after the Super Bowl for the ´Fin-Wyn´ Seisiún Gathering, an annual afternoon of Irish trad I hosted at Batavia´s O´Lacy´s Pub, which gets together musicians from the Buffalo (Buffalo-Martin Wynne Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann) and Rochester (Tom Finucane Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann) area.
With regard to bands, over the past two decades, I´ve worked in a variety of musical projects, starting with ´Finnegan´s aWake´, which grew out of the musical collaborations with Russell and Terry. Also had the honor of playing with the accomplished hammered-dulcimer player, Evan Carawan, in ‘The Travelers’. Since moving to Western New York, I´ve played accompaniment for Trefoyle, the trio responsible for inspiring the decade-plus-old Saturday afternoon Celtic Seisiúns at Nietzsche´s, a World Music project called Abe´s Lily. led by accomplished clawhammer banjo player, Laurence Sugarman, which features Irish, old time and jazz voicings on the cuatro and bouzouki. You can download our recording on Amazon or iTunes.
Abanalan, a more recent project, features the husband and wife pipe-maker team of Tim (pipes, fiddle, flute) and Stephanie (fiddle) Benson and Maureen Bluett on vocals, mandolin and bodhran. Variations of Abanalan have found a great synergy with the vocals and accomplished guitarwork of Gregor Harvey, under the auspices of Setanta.
Thanks for dropping in. Always looking for recording projects, gigs, and the opportunity to teach Irish accompaniment. Please feel free to contact me with any inquiries or post a note.
Following are some samples of my music…
And a recent interview with Eileen Buckley, featured on WBFO: