Known for both his Celtic-tinged traditional tunes and contemporary styles, singer John McDermott is marking 20 years of sharing his music with the masses.
He performs in Red Deer at the Memorial Centre on April 14.
Looking back to his start in the industry, McDermott can recall the precise moment when he realized he had made the right decision to give up his day job and make singing his full-time career.
That moment came at 8 p.m. on Oct. 5th, 1993 at the Rebecca Cohn Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia as he walked on stage to a full house and a thunderous East Coast welcome.
It was the first concert with his own band, following a year as the opening act for the internationally-renowned Irish group, The Chieftains.
McDermott was thrilled that the Halifax crowd was so enthusiastic – their encore-encouraging applause kept the show going for more than four hours.
Not that many years before, he had been working in the circulation department of one of Toronto’s daily newspapers.
As a creative outlet, he would sing a few Irish and Scottish folk tunes at staff gatherings – songs he had learned growing up in a musical household in Willowdale, Ontario after his family moved there from Glasgow, Scotland.
His father Peter and his mother Hope encouraged family sing-a-longs. And the only formal musical training John received was when he attended St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto for two years.
The turning point in terms of career was sparked when he recorded an album of Irish and Scottish ballads as a 50th wedding anniversary gift for his parents.
He recorded 12 tracks, one for each of the 12 McDermott children, then added one more version of Danny Boy the way his father liked to hear it sung a cappella.
Those who heard the album encouraged John to have it produced commercially.
Recalling that a couple of entertainment business heavyweights, Michael Cohl and Bill Ballard, had been impressed with his singing at a Karaoke Night during the Toronto Floating Film Festival a couple of years earlier, John took the album to Ballard, who put him in touch with the president of EMI Music Canada.
EMI released 2,000 copies on Nov. 10, 1992. The next day being Remembrance Day, famed Canadian broadcaster Peter Gzowski played three tracks from the album. The stores couldn’t keep it on the shelves and more copies were quickly produced.
A few months later, CBC-TV profiled John in a short piece that was aired on the The National. Within a short time the CD had sold more than 50,000 copies.
Hedging his bets, John took a leave of absence from his newspaper job to tour with The Chieftains. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Throughout 1994, he toured Australia and New Zealand where Danny Boy had topped the charts. John played his first U.S. concert at Boston’s Ritz Carlton Hotel in 1995 and a member of the audience went backstage to pay his respects. It was Senator Ted Kennedy and the American politician invited John to perform at the Democratic National Convention in 1996.
They became friends and John, at Kennedy’s request, frequently visited the Kennedy compound at Cape Cod. When the Massachusetts senator died in August, 2009, John was invited to sing at the memorial service.
Since the beginning of his musical career, John has recorded more than 25 albums, three of which have gone platinum while another has reached double platinum.
Veterans are also special to John. His father, who died in 1995, served in the Royal Air Force. John’s mother, who lived on for about five years after her husband’s death, had a brother who died in the notorious Changi Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
Two of John’s cousins were killed in Vietnam and another took his own life after serving there. In 2010, John was awarded a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation for his work on behalf of veterans. He is also an honorary member of the War Amps of Canada.
A project that has been close to his heart was raising $3.6 million to enhance and expand the Palliative Care unit – K-Wing Veterans Centre – at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.
He has said that he wants to help the staff give the best possible care to their patients – veterans, serving members of the military, first responders such as police officers and firemen, and members of the general public who are admitted to the unit.
For ticket information, call 403-755-6626 or visit www.blackknightinn.ca.