Some of the "old timers" remember John from the 50's and 60's when he played in Chicago at every kind of event imaginable.
John picked up the accordion strictly on his own, starting out with a plastic toy that a neighbor had which was essentially a miniature melodeon. John moved on to a more authentic melodeon, and finally to a rather grandiose Italian accordion with his name emblazoned on the front, as was the custom at the time.
John's music is a sum of lots of influences including not only his dearly departed friend Joe Cooley, but also his father and sister, who played fiddle/piano. It's sure he heard lots of traditional music while still in the womb.
John continued to favor learning tunes more from fiddlers rather than from accordion players, and was fortunate enough to play with and learn from the likes of Aggie White, Pat Kenny, Tony Lowe and John McGreevy, to name but a few. (That's Tom Masterson Sr. behind Johnny in the photo.)
All are shown here in some rather dated pictures.
Aggie White Ryan took the time to teach John the "Trip to Durrow", the "Earl's Chair", and the "Chattering Magpie" during John's wonderful visit to Woodford, County Galway, in the summer of 1962. John brought these tunes back to Chicago; Trip to Durrow became a Joe Cooley standard. Cooley influenced John mostly in terms of tempo and life in his music.
When Joe Cooley, Joe Leary and John toured Ireland together in 1963, Ciaran MacMathuna recorded a session at Bridie Lafferty's house in Homefarm Road in Dublin. John played the Trip to Durrow on that program; Joe Cooley didn't know it yet. What fun was had that year!
Thanks have already gone out to Charlie Piggott who dug a copy of that radio program from the RTE archives and sent it to John. It arrived at John's house in San Jose, California on St. Patrick's Day, 1993, exactly 30 years to the day that Joe Cooley and John landed in Ireland in 1963. Some of this recording session can also be heard on the famous Cooley album.
One of Joe and John's favorite tunes is given the name "Peter's Well" because Joe didn't know the name of it and nobody else seemed to either. Peterswell, of course was Joe's hometown where Joe and John had many a tune in Sherry's, day and night. You'll find this tune on the CD coupled with "Summer in Ireland", which, of course, was Joe's name for Dowd's no. 9.
As is evident in the tunes selected for the CD, many of which are also played on the Patrick Street series of CD's, John's current favorite accordionist is Jackie Daly.
John dedicates the CD to the memory of Frank Thornton Sr., from County Kerry, Ireland, great Chicago musician and organizer who did so much for John and other Irish-American "starters" throughout his lifetime in Chicago.
Frank is shown far right in this photograph with the performers of the famous 1959 "Irish
American" Irish music, dance and song concert tour. Frank, then a leader in the Irish Musician's Association of America, worked tirelessly with members of the growing Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) movement all over Ireland to make this tour a success. It is well known that this tour was contributory to the continued successfulness and fast growth of the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) movement. Also, many thanks to Jim Thornton, Frank's son, another great musician with heart to match his music.
Thanks also to Bill Black for researching the names of tunes on the CD.
We also would like to fondly remember the others mentioned here that are no longer with us.
To list all the Irish musicians worldwide that John has played with and learned from over the years would take a book. Most are well known in their own right.
As depicted on the cover of the CD, John spent many years playing for the entertainment of his family and neighbors quite outside of the Irish music scene. Now that the children are raised, he is once again concentrating on his music and hopes to share it with others, in particular the young folks, who might be interested in learning.