As someone with ZERO musical ability – seriously, I can’t even play the radio (and I suck at musical chairs!) – I consider myself extremely fortunate to have spent my entire adult life in the company of many talented musicians. For whatever reason, almost every one of my friends either plays in a band or is in a relationship with someone who is. And while many come and go, two bands, Hubinger Street and the Highland Rovers, have been providing the soundtrack to my social life for the past twenty years. Unfortunately, one of them is calling it quits.
I first saw the Highland Rovers before they even had a name. I’m not sure if it was their very first show, but they were definitely soliciting the audience at the brand new Gaelic club for suggestions. I admit, at the time I was more impressed with the discounted drink prices and incredible interior of the club, and frankly did not pay the band that much attention. But I was there! As were many others, who I would soon become quite familiar with in the coming years as they followed the band on their tipsy travels throughout the state…and beyond.
The first time the band got MY attention was with a funny sing-a-long to the tune of Do-Re-Mi… only it was “Do, is what we pay for beer. Re, the guy who pours the beer. Mi, the guy who drinks the beer. Fa, the distance to the bar. So, I think I’ll have a beer. La, la la la la la laaa! Ti, tanks I’ll have a beer. And that brings us back to Do, oh, oh oh…” What can I say? I was young and fresh out of college and used to playing drinking games, and here were a trio of guys who were basically a living, breathing drinking game. What wasn’t to like?
But I soon learned to appreciate them for their true talents. Whether it was spot-on renditions of Irish classics, truly original originals, or inspired covers of modern hits, the boys had talent. And their hilarious interplay between songs was worth the price of admission alone. They could sing. They could play. They could make you laugh. And they could drink! Again, I ask you, what wasn’t to like?
And I was not alone. The size of the crowds continued to grow with each passing show. And as word of the boys’ charms spread, the look of the crowd changed as well. No longer was it just wool wrapped, kilt wearing, tam sporting Irishmen and women, there were other people there too. Hippies and yuppies and rockers and jocks. It was like the Breakfast Club. Make that the Irish Breakfast Club, minus the black pudding! And speaking of breakfast, the Rovers also introduced a new generation to the glorious, but overlooked, “classic” by the Fabulous Farquahr, “My Eggs Don’t Taste the Same Without You.”
I also did my part to introduce new people to the band. While it was not always easy convincing my friends to give up a chance to see established (and, let’s be honest, cooler!) acts like Simple Jim, Deep Banana Blackout, or Gargantua Soul, in order to check out those “Irish guys in vests” - but once they did, they were hooked.
Unfortunately, as VH-1 has made all too clear with their documentaries, no band is devoid of drama, and The Rovers had their “Behind the Music” moment when the trio became a duo (before remerging as a quintet, and ultimately a sextet!) But the changes added new life to the band and for whatever reason, seemed to push them to reach for new heights, both creatively and professionally. I wasn’t privy to the conversations, but imagine that the break-up was sort of a wake up call, where they realized how quickly things can change and that they needed to make the most of the situation. And did they ever!
As the years passed, the boys expanded their ever-growing fan base and journeyed further away from their home base. And while we’re talking about bases, who can forget their gig at Shea Stadium? Or their nationally televised appearance on FOX? Not to mention their Marshall Tucker period, where founding member, Doug Gray, served as mentor and head cheerleader, inviting the Rovers to open for, and join, his band on stage. But what impressed ME the most were their St. Patrick’s Day gigs, where they would play a full 3-hour set somewhere in Connecticut, complete with shots…and more shots, then jump on a bus and play another full set up in Boston!
On a more personal note, the band was somewhat responsible for the completion of my first novel, Alchemy. I had an idea for a story, and wrote the first chapter, back in the early 90’s, but it did nothing but collect dust until I tore my Achilles tendon dancing at a Highland Rovers show in 2004. Laid up for several months, and with nothing better to do with my time, I dug out the old manuscript and started typing away. A few years later, I was thrilled to be able to present them each with a copy of the finished book.
Equally thrilling was kissing my wife, Sarah, for the first time…which, wait for it, was at a Highland Rover’s St. Paddy’s show at O’Neill’s! Technically she wasn’t my wife at the time, but she soon would be (coincidentally right around the time the band released a song called Sara, which, even though it was about the birth of a band member’s daughter, and missing an H, applied to my new-found love as well: “Sara, you’re the answer to the questions my heart has been asking…”
And then there was the wedding of my childhood friend, the VERY Irish Mary Callahan, who married the even MORE Irish Jimmy Kelleher, and naturally they hired the Rovers to play their reception. The highlight of the evening, and one of my favorite memories ever, was when they played “Goodbye, Mary” – an original song about a guy who finds out a lost love is getting married, which while having no connection to the bride, was both funny and apropos as it sent them on their merry way with the refrain, “I wish you all the happiness in the world.”
And I want to wish The Highland Rovers all the happiness in the world. You guys (and gal) have provided me, and thousands of others, with wonderful music and memories for the past twenty years, and we owe you (and your patient families!) a debt of gratitude for sharing your gifts with us. As much as I would like to have you play on forever, I know all good things must come to an end. And while my heart and soul and feet will miss you and your music, my liver is heaving a huge sigh of relief!
I’m also a little sad that you won’t be able to teach my 5-year old how to swear, as many a young one has learned to shout “BULLSHIT” whenever they hear, “And his fate is still unlearned.” And god help those who ask who Alice is!
But in all seriousness, thank you. Thank you all. Thank you, Tommy and Jimmy and Billy. Thank you, Al and Jeff and Michael. Thank you, Colleen and Turk and the Madden Group. Thank you, friends and fans and families. Thank you for the music, the mayhem, and the memories. And thanks again for snapping my fucking tendon, you bastards!!!!
Good night, and joy be with you all