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The Boston Herald - Sunday, May 23, 1999 

McDermott Emerges to Make Irish Eyes Smile

By Daniel Gewertz


Donít judge John McDermott by his old TV commercials.

You know the ones: late-night spots from the Beautiful Music label extolling the homey virtues of the handsome tenorís 'Danny Boy' album.  Celtic fold fans might scoff at such sentimentality.

But McDermott is the real deal.  Heís a singer of gorgeous voice and unpretentious ways, and his career is the kind of rare grassroots phenomenon most folk singers can only dream of.

In 1992, at age 38, McDermott was the circulation manager for the Toronto Sun.  To surprise his parents on their 50th anniversary, the amateur singer recorded a batch of favorite Scottish and Irish songs.  "The songs were the ones my 11 brothers and sisters and I used to sing at parties," he said.

By 1998, that album had sold more than 300,000 copies.

"I had almost no musical schooling.  I got my voice from my father,î said McDermott, whose late father was an admired amateur singer in Scotland and Canada.

"Iíve copied the way my dad sang, and hopefully, one day, Iíll get as good as he was," said McDermott, who immigrated to Canada from Scotland at age 11.

McDermott will sing at the Emerson Majestic Theatre Thursday at a benefit for The New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans.

When McDermott says he was "lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time," he isnít just thinking of the interest in Celtic traditional music that coincided with the release of his first CD.  The whole creation of the album was serendipitous.

First came a chance meeting at the Toronto SkyDome with newspaper magnate Conrad Black, who asked McDermott to sing at a black-tie affair.

"I got a tuxedo for the event," he said.  "Soon after I arrived, I walked up to this guy and told him: ëGee, youíre an absolute double of Ronald Reagan.í  And he said ëI am Ronald Reagan.í  So we stood and chatted about Ireland!  Then the Canadian prime minister showed up, and I thought: this gig is all right!"

McDermott sang "The Rose of Tralee" and "Danny Boy" that night.  Two years later, when McDermott was having a hard time coming up with funds to record his album, he thought of Black, who quickly agreed to pay for the production.  Instead of a rudimentary demo, "Danny Boy" became a lush CD with 15 musicians and a tasteful, dramatic tone.

The EMI-Angel label procured the album.  "They asked me to go on the road and promote the album, and I said, ëAre you crazy?  Iíve got a job and bills to pay!í"        

But in January 1993, Canadaís national CBC-TV newscast did a 10-minute piece on McDermottís album.  "And the next day the whole country went nuts for it," McDermott said.  "At that point, my old man said to me: Quit your job, son!í  And I did."

McDermott now has seven albums of traditional and modern songs, including the new "Remembrance," a CD of songs inspired by the sacrifices of war.  His interest in veterans is another gift from his father, a World War II vet.  McDermott is a spokesman for Canadian war amputees.

In 1998, McDermott, who is of Scottish-Irish descent, joined Ronan Tynan and Anthony Kearns in Dublin to tape "The Irish Tenors."  This spring, the show became a PBS-TV hit.

"Iím not remotely connected to opera, and they live for it," McDermott said.  "But the chemistry between the three of us was basic and obvious.  Like my whole life lately, it was such an adventure."