Old Time Irish Music In America

By Terry Teahan And Gene Kelly

Twelve comments

Released on the Topic label (12TS352) in 1977 - and sadly never reissued in CD format - this album features two Irish musicians who both emigrated to the US in the late 1920s. Born in 1909 in Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, Gene Kelly plays a C#/D accordion on this recording while Terry, often known as ‘Cuz’, was born in 1905 at Glauntane, Co. Kerry, was a pupil of Pádraig O’Keeffe and here plays the concertina and melodeon.

All the tracks are solo unaccompanied and the majority feature Terry (apart from nos. 1, 4, 8, 12, 15, 18, 22 and 26 which are by Gene).

The album is well worth hunting down, not least for Mick Moloney’s extensive notes on the two musicians and the sense that something vital might have been lost in this pair’s passing.

Great stuff!!!

Thanks Floss, I hadn’t realized this wasn’t already here. Maybe the Free Reed people, if pestered, will add that to their growing list or rereleases… It being ‘Topic’ there’s no reason why they couldn’t swing it, with notes too… I love this album…

It looks like I have some linking to do, and maybe a few tunes to transcribe too… ;-)

Ceol, you’re assuming that the relationship between Topic and Free Reed is currently a good one! Also, it’s quite possible that Mick Moloney (who recorded and produced the album) still has the masters.

More theft from the Topic label by Dragut Reis (aka Robert Ryan) who is still operating here under two names - the aforementioned Dragut Reis and the somewhat shorter RR.

This site’s FAQ states ‘Can I have more than one membership? No. Absolutely not. It’s strictly one membership per person here at The Session. Anyone caught faking a new membership will be expelled.’

So why hasn’t Dragut Reis/Robert Ryan been given the boot?

flat pitched tracks

As far as I can tell, Terry Teahan is playing a C melodeon on tracks 7, 9, 10, 11, 20, and 24. Therefore, anyone learning tunes from this record should keep in mind that the tunes on those tracks should be transposed up a full step.

Thanks Patrick, appreciated… I wish we had similar comments to guide others elsewhere. A lot of old recordings, and new too, are quite often a half step sharp, and then, aside from boxes in different keys and tunings, there’s pipes and whistles in different keys, not forgetting different tunings for the fiddle as well.

“Terry Teahan and Gene Kelly: Old Time Irish Music in America”

Topic Records Ltd., London 12TS352

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Sleeve notes ~
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First published by Topic 1977/Recorded and produced in New York by Mick Moloney. 1976/Notes by Mick Moloney/Sleeve design by Tony Engle/Photography by Mick Moloney.

Notes on the musicians can be found on an Insert.

Notes on the recording: The Gene Kelly recordings were carried out by Mick Moloney in Washington D.C. on July 17th 1976 on a Sony TC 770 recorder using Beyer microphones. The Terry Teahan recordings were also made by Mick Moloney in Chicago on July 28th 1976 using a Nagra recorder. Dr. Kenneth S. Goldstein kindly loaned the recording equipment for the project which was funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the recording of Irish traditional music in America. Mixing and mastering was carried out at The Mixing Lab, Boston. Sound engineer John Nagy. Editing by Ann Mintz.

This record features the playing of two old style Irish musicians, Gene Kelly and Terry Teahan. Both are in their seventies and both have been resident in America since the 1920s. Gene plays the old style C#-D accordion and Terry plays concertina and the one-row melodeon. Both have played extensively over the years in Irish dance halls. Howeve4r, their repertoires and playing styles are radically different. Gene possesses a stock of tunes heavily influenced by the music played in Irish dance halls in New York City in the 1930s and 40s - tunes such as The Sweep’s Hornpipe, Miss McLeod’s Reel, Father O’Flynn and The Connaught Man’s Rambles. HE also has a large repertoire of less well-known tunes learned both in Ireland and in America.

Terry on the other hand plays for the most part tunes rarely heard now, mostly slides and polkas, which he has kept alive almost single-handedly throughout his years in America. Both play their music with a relatively more sparing use of ornamentation than is common among modern accordion and concertina players. Their playing awakens echoes of a bygone era, a time of house visiting and cross roads dancing.

Neither is greatly concerned with technical perfection but rather with the spirit and lilt of the music. "If there’s a mistake" says Terry, "I’d rather let it be in there and not be worrying about it," a sentiment heartily echoed by Gene. Both love their music and play it with a passion and enjoyment undiminished by the passing years. The current revival of Irish music in America would hardly have been possible without the presence of players like them who have kept the music alive, in the foreign environment of the great American cities. With even the most talented of the B-C accordion players showing a certain sameness in their playing nowadays, it is important that alternative approaches to the music be displayed so as to ensure the stylistic diversity which is the hallmark of any vital tradition.

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Sleeve notes continued - on the tunes ~
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SIDE ONE

_1. ) Reels: The Corner House / The Broomstick (Gene Kelly)
Gene learned these from the late John Glen, a fine accordion player who lived in Brooklyn. He also heard them played a lot by Paddy Sullivan, a fiddler from Kerry.

_2. ) Slide: Tom Looney’s (Terry Teahan)
This is named after a Chicago man — a non-musician — who would always request slides.

_3. ) Slides: Reagan’s (Terry Teahan)
"Reagan was a concertina player from Brosna. He’s dad and gone now."

_4. ) Hornpipes: The Sweep’s / Hennessey’s (Gene Kelly)
These Gene learned from the Rabbit Brothers. he laso remembers hearing John McKenna playing them together on the flute. An almost identical version of The Sweep’s can be found in O’Neill (No. 1613).

_5. ) Barn Dance: The Kerry Mills (Terry Teahan)
Terry remembers playing this at home for dancing. Two steps and a whirl would be danced to this particular tune. It was part of the set for the Stack of Barley. An unrelated tune was recorded by the Flanagan Brothers under the same title. Terry’s Kerry Mills is similar to one of two tunes recorded under the title ‘The Man from Newry’ by the McCusker Brothers.
( Kerry Mills, Frederick Allen Mills, the composer - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerry_Mills )

_6. ) Polka: Mick Howard’s (Terry Teahan)
Terry learned this back in Kerry. Mick Howard was an old man who lived near Scartaglin. It is also played in Donegal where it is known as "Maggie Pickin’s".

_7. ) Hornpipe: The Bird’s (Terry Teahan - melodeon)
"That’s another one I picked up from the older crowd. The ‘Bird’ was a man named Murphy from Knocknagashel and some crowd heard him whistling this tune. It’s not in (written) music anywhere."

_8. ) Air: Blind Mary (Gene Kelly)
This is a composition of Turlough O’Carolan. It can be found in O’Neill’s ‘Music of Ireland’ (No. 655). Gene heard it played over Telefis Eireann by a trio from Kerry during a trip back home and managed to tape it.

_9. ) Slide: The Barrel Organ (Terry Teahan)
"I got it from the old time crowd — from way ahead of me. I kept them by humming them."

10. ) Slide: The Evening I Spent with Mick (Terry Teahan)
The title is in memory of the day we did the recording for this record. Terry got it from the old people and hasn’t heard it played by anyone else since his youth.

11. ) Slide: The Paper Plate (Terry Teahan)
Terry once wrote this tune out for Liz Carroll, a fine fiddler from Chicago. All he could find to write on was a paper plate. Hence the title.

12. ) Jigs: Fahey’s / Gerry’s Beaver Hat (Gene Kelly)
The first jig is a composition of Paddy Fahey, the Galway fiddler. Gene learned it along with Gerry’s Beaver Hat (O’Neill 754) from hearing it played in session in New York City.

SIDE TWO

_1. ) Slide: Lonesome Road to Dingle (Terry Teahan)
Terry learned this at home and has never heard it played outside the Castleisland area.

_2. ) Polka: Mickey Chewing Bubble Gum (Terry Teahan)
This was one of Terry’s first compositions and he remembers Patrick O’Keefe (Padraig O’Keeffe), his teacher in Kerry, playing it frequently. It got its picturesque title when Terry named it after a nephew of his in Chicago who was a perpetual gum chewer.

_3. ) Barn Dances: Sean Hayes / If There Weren’t Any Women in the World (Gene Kelly)
Barn Dances seem to have died out now, but they were very popular in New York about forty years ago. Sean Hayes from Co. Cork had a dance band which used to play them a lot as well as marches and set pieces. Gene learned both tunes from listening to the band.

_4. ) Hornpipe: Tadgh’s Ailment (Terry Teahan)
This was a great hornpipe for the sets back home.

_5. ) Slide: Going for Water (Terry Teahan)
Terry learned this around the house at home from hearing his father and mother humming it.

_6. ) Air: The Old Cubeen (Gene Kelly)
Gene learned this in Irish from his school teacher, Mrs. Jones. He "brushed it up a little bit and added a few grace notes."

_7. ) Waltz: Tadgh and Biddy (Terry Teahan)
This is one of Terry’s own compositions. It is named after an elderly couple at home who went together for a great number of years.

_8. ) Fling: Poll Hapenny (Terry Teahan)
Patrick O’Keefe (Padraig O’Keeffe) passed this on to Terry. A different setting appears in O’Neill’s ‘Music of Ireland’ (No. 1783).

_9. ) Polka: Paddy Kenny’s (Terry Teahan)
Paddy Kenny was an accordion player from Galway with whom Terry played a lot in Chicago. Terry first heard the polka back home in Kerry and he named it after Paddy.

10. ) Jigs: Father O’Flynn’s / The Connaught Man’s Rambles (Gene Kelly)
Gene learned both in America from listening to the lads playing in the dance halls — Eddie Meehan, Joe Flanagan and George Sullivan. The two were always played together for the sets. Both are in O’Neill’s ‘Music of Ireland’ where ‘The Connaught Man’s Rambles’ is No. 1003 and ‘Father O’Flynn’s’ appears as ‘The Top of Cork Road’ (No. 1031). ‘Father O’Flynn’s’ is, of course, the title of the popular song of Alfred Graves which he set to a variant of ‘The Top of Cork Road’.

11. ) Polka: Jack Mitchell’s (Terry Teahan)
This one was learned back in Kerry. Jack Mitchell comes from Roscommon and lived in Chicago for several years. He always asked fo this particular polka and Terry christened it after him.

12. ) Sword Dance: No Name (Terry Teahan)
This is really a Kerry slide but was referred to as a sword dance back home. It is a close cousin of the tune known as ‘Denis Murphy’s Slide’.

13. ) Fling: The Road to Glauntane (Terry Teahan)
This was composed by Terry Teahan in honour of Patrick O’Keefe (Padraig O’Keeffe).

14. ) Reels: The Swallow’s Tail / Miss McLeod’s (Gene Kelly)
Both ‘The Swallow’s Tail’ (O’Neill No. 1268) and ‘Miss McLeod’s’ (O’Neill No. 1418) were played in New York when Gene arrived. He learned them from the Galligan Brothers, Denis and Joe, both fiddlers from County Sligo. Dennis still lives in Long Island and Joe now has his own business in Florida.

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Notes from the insert, the musicians: Gene Kelly

Gene was born in Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny in 1909. Both of his granfathers and his mother were traditional musicians. One grandfather, Peter Kelly, was a particularly fine flute player. The ten-key melodeon was a very popular instrument in the area. Gene got his first training when five years old on the Anglo concertina and later on the melodeon from his mother and a neighbour, Mary Nolan, who taught him to play scales. His uncle would oversee the practice sessions and give him an occasional rap over the knuckles whenever he made mistakes. The first tunes he remembers playing were ‘Maggie in the Woods’ and ‘Follow me up to Carlow’.

In 1927 Gene decided to emigrate because "things weren’t going too well at home." An uncle in America sent him the fare so away he went to New York City. His uncle died a few years after he arrived but by that time he was well adjusted to life in America. He did all sorts of odd jobs around New York before he finally settled on a career in the Civil Service "because it was the coming thing." He attended evening school for four years and became qualified as a housing engineer. He worked in this capacity for the New York City Housing Authority until his retirement in 1970.

Gene didn’t play any music during his first four years in America, mainly because he didn’t have an instrument. Then he acquired a melodeon and started to play again. There was a lot of Irish music around New York at that time. Gene remembers listening to, and on occasions playing with, The Rabbit Brothers, Patsy and Tommy Cauley, Katherine Grant, Paddy O’Sullivan from Kerry, Pat and Jack Murphy from Limerick, Eddie Meehan, Time Fitzpatrick from Clare, Jimmy Clarke and George White, The Roche Brothers, Tommy Godley, and The Flanagan Brothers, who played "Irish music, waltzes, American music, anything … they were tops around New York then."

He also remembers Morrison, Sweeney, Killoran, and , of course, Coleman who to Gene was an elusive figure whose whereabouts at any given time were "like a military secret". Coleman was "a great man for disappearing. He would leave the room in the middle of a session and would be next heard of in Chicago … He would never charge money for playing. People would stuff it into his pockets but he would never ask for it … but people fed him an awful lot of booze."

Gene fell in himself with two fine musicians, Joe and Denis Gallagher, who taught him a lot of music between 1935 and 1940. He picked up many tunes in dance halls, such as The Kerry Hall, Donaven Hall, The Harp of Erin, The Pride of Erin, The Tricolour Ballroom, The Mayo Ballroom, etc. He "tried out" with some of the bands who played there but found the melodeon totally unsuitable for playing along with instruments like the saxophone and cornet, which were common in the Irish dance bands of the thirties, so he had an accordion custom-made for him with the C#-D fingering system. It cost the astronomical sum of $375 but Gene feels it was worth every cent he paid for it. He started off playing songs so that he could "finger the two rows properly" and then graduated to dance tunes. He subsequently played with two ceili bands, The Golden Eagle (which featured Tom Busby on pipes, Joe Lamont, Frank Clarke, Eddie Chisholm on fiddles, a pianist, and himself on accordion) and later he played with The Glencora Ceili Band (which featured, in addition to himself, Pete Reilly on whistle, Joe Lamont and Peggy Rirodan on fiddles and Mrs. Cullen on piano). He also had his own orchestra at one time called Gene Kelly and The Scotties, which featured a line-up of "two Scotsmen and several Irish Americans".

Most of Gene’s playing up to the 1960s was done in dance halls, parties and weddings and occasionally in saloons. Since that time he has done a lot of playing in clubs organized by the Traditional Irish Musicians Association (Inc., Yonkers), of which he is a prominent member. In the last couple of years he has played at festivals in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Toronto. He enjoys them immensely and feels they have given him a new lease on life. As he never learned to read music, the cassette recorder has been a tremendous help to Gene in boosting his repertoire. In the old days his friend Joe Lamont, a fiddler from Derry, would write out tunes and play them for him over the phone until he had them right. Now he practises with the recorder at home in Ronkonkoma, where he lives in retirement with his wife. He estimates that in the late 60s he would learn five tunes (mostly reels) a week.

The tunes Gene plays on this record are mainly drawn from the older repertoire which he acquired either at home in Kilkenny or in New York in the 1930s and 40s. His style of playing these tunes is very clearly an extension of the melodeon style. The bass accompaniment plays very little part in this style and in fact Gene admits that his use of the bass notes is totally haphazard. Yet the very "incorrectness" of the bass adds a vitality and charm to Gene’s playing which radically distinguishes it from the more advanced B-C accordion which is now overwhelmingly favoured by Irish players.

( Notes by Mick Moloney, 1976 )