September 18, 2001
The Grassroots Tenor: Life is Good For John McDermott
He's riding comfortably on well-established career and tonight at the Royal Theatre he launches a Canadian tour to promote his latest CD, A Day to Myself.
By Adrian Chamberlain
Toronto tenor John McDermott may not be the hippest guy in the world.
But he doesn't care.
A newspaper reviewer recently gave the thumbs-up to his new disc, A Day to Myself. However, the Calgary scribe tacked on a snotty aside: "Pop music for your Gran."
"Everyone has a right to their own opinion," said McDermott evenly in a phone interview. "Everyone has a right to their own opinion.... I don't think the public bases a whole lot on that."
To be sure, the average spiky-haired Blink 182 fan isn't picking up A Day to Myself, replete with such well-trodden pop standards as And I Love You So (``My favourite Perry Como tune,'' says McDermott), Try to Remember and Smile. The recording also contains new compositions, as well as a couple of old Gordon Lightfoot songs.
The 46-year-old singer launches his Canadian tour tonight at the Royal Theatre. Appearing in his band is the noted folksinger/songwriter, Eric Bogle.
McDermott is well aware he's anything but the latest pop music flavour of the week. It's true in the last two years he's enjoyed receiving high-profile exposure, most notably appearing on the 1999 PBS TV special The Irish Tenors, which was broadcast across the United States. Since his professional career commenced in 1992, he's sold hundreds of thousands of discs.
Yet the Canadian seems to be one of those artists who enjoys a mostly grassroots, word-of-mouth support. Significantly, he says he has received virtually no radio airplay for his albums. His compilation disc, The Danny Boy Collection, sold several hundred thousand copies in the U.S. -- through a mail-order marketing campaign.
These days, life is good for McDermott. He's riding comfortably on a career that is now well-established, and has largely overcome the shock of a trio of family deaths last year.
Within a six-month period, his mother, a sister and a brother died. At the time, McDermott told a Chicago Tribune reporter he was "on shaky ground for a while.'' It forced the singer to reconsider his priorities.
``Totally, you just reassess what's important in life,'' he told the Times Colonist. ``What's important in life is your faith, is your family, and going about doing something that perhaps can make a difference in other people's lives.''
The death of his beloved mother, Hope, prompted a grieving McDermott to opt out of the Irish Tenors, a tremendously successful and busy trio that also included Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan (he was replaced by Finbar Wright). With McDermott, the Irish Tenors had taped a PBS special, recorded a CD and embarked on a U.S. concert tour that included full houses at New York's Madison Square Garden and Chicago's United Centre.
"It was great while it lasted,'' said McDermott, who says he'll likely do some guest spots with the Irish Tenors in the future.
While it's entirely possible a longer tenure in the Irish Tenors might have further boosted his career, it seems to have already done the trick for the singer, who's now popular in many areas of the United States as well as Canada. He regularly performs with American symphony orchestras, sang for a televised St. Patrick's parade in New York City and Chicago, and performed at a Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
In November, McDermott will tape his own PBS television special. John McDermott -- A Time to Remember will be recorded live at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, and will air on PBS member stations in March.
The show will also be offered on CDs, videos and DVDs.
McDermott says he's come to realize that a career in showbiz is about more than just making money.
He regularly performs free concerts for seniors' and veterans' groups. In Boston, where he has a second home, McDermott recently announced the opening of The Hope McDermott Day Program Centre, offering services for the city's homeless veterans.
The singer also makes a point of attempting to assist up-and-coming Canadian performers.
For instance, his upcoming PBS concert special will feature performances by a young music/dance troupe called Pulse as well as the St. Marys Children's Chorus.
All in all, it's a pretty impressive career for a one-time Toronto Sun circulation manager who didn't cut a record until he'd reached his mid-30s.
McDermott may not be the hippest guy around. But he's enjoying life by living it with two feet planted firmly on the ground, and giving back as much as he takes.
``I've been given an opportunity to do this for a living. What's more enjoyable than singing? I don't know.''