T he meticulous tune transcriptions
found in Séamus Connolly and Laurel Martins Forget
Me Not book come courtesy of John McGann, who also plays guitar
and mandolin on one of the two CDs tucked inside the book. His
original custom transcription service has proved popular with
musicians from all genres because of the great care he gives to
the work. The same care shows in John McGanns own music.
He plays acoustic, electric, and pedal-steel guitars, mandolin,
octave mandolin, dobro, organ, and electric bass. This remarkable
versatility is matched by remarkable virtuosity. In 1985 John
won the National Mandolin Championship in Winfield, Kansas, and
he has won several regional titles on both mandolin and flatpicked
guitar. Composing is another skill John has honed.
Canyon Moonrise, for example,
is a gorgeous slow waltz of his that has been recorded no fewer
than three times, each with John playing on it. The tune appears
on the Beacon Hillbillies Duffield Station album
in 1992, on Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham, and Christian Lemaîtres
The Celtic Fiddle Festival album in 1993, and on John McGanns
own solo debut, Upslide, in 1995. Born in Morristown, New
Jersey, in 1959, John was smitten by the Beatles, the Rolling
Stones, and Yes during high school. Soon he also became fascinated
with new acoustic music, frequently a yeasty brew of bluegrass,
jazz, gospel, folk, and even Celtic. He has listened raptly to
the likes of Russ Barenberg, David Grisman, Tony Rice, Tony Trischka,
Sam Bush, and Andy Statman, whose superior skill as a mandolinist
in both bluegrass and klezmer anticipates Johns own ease
and expertise in different genres.
During his years at Bostons Berklee
College of Music, where Joe Derrane had also studied for a time
in its previous incarnation as the Schillinger House, John immersed
himself in research. I learned about jazz and improvising
while expanding my understanding of bluegrass and traditional
fiddle music, then Irish music, he said. The bands John
has been in since graduating from Berklee in 1981 suggest the
scope of his musical interests. He played rock with Dear Sir and
the Wendell Post Band, progressive bluegrass with Lost in the
Shuffle, and rootsy string-band music through mainly original
compositions with the Beacon Hillbillies.
Other albums featuring Johns instrumental
mastery include Matt Glasers Play Fiddle Play in
1990, Frank Ferrels Yankee Dreams in 1991 and Moxie
in 1994, the American Cafe Orchestras Egyptian Dominoes
in 1992, and the Beacon Hillbillies More Songs of Love
and Murder in 1994. More recent projects come from two genre-bending
bands in which John currently plays: Rust Farm in 1998
and Rust Farms Snows of March in 2000, and the Wayfaring
Strangers Shifting Sands of Time in 2001 and This
Train in 2003.
Apart from The Celtic Fiddle Festival,
John McGanns Celtic connections span such albums as John
Whelans From the Heart in 1990 and Come to Dance
in 1999, Kips Bays Digging In in 1993 and Into
the Light in 1996, Boston College Irish Studies Program
Celebrates Gaelic Roots in 1997, The Boston Edge, and
Joe Derranes upcoming The Man Behind the Box on Mapleshade.
After recording The Boston Edge, Séamus Connolly
paid John a high compliment: He knows whats Irish.