The meticulous tune transcriptions found in Séamus Connolly and Laurel Martin’s 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 McGann’s 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 Lemaître’s The Celtic Fiddle Festival album in 1993, and on John McGann’s 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 John’s own ease and expertise in different genres.

During his years at Boston’s 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 John’s instrumental mastery include Matt Glaser’s Play Fiddle Play in 1990, Frank Ferrel’s Yankee Dreams in 1991 and Moxie in 1994, the American Cafe Orchestra’s 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 Farm’s 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 McGann’s Celtic connections span such albums as John Whelan’s From the Heart in 1990 and Come to Dance in 1999, Kips Bay’s 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 Derrane’s upcoming The Man Behind the Box on Mapleshade. After recording The Boston Edge, Séamus Connolly paid John a high compliment: “He knows what’s Irish.”

Earle Hitchner
August 2004


The Boston Edge (#10332) The Man Behind The Box (#10732)


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