Chieftains Chief Paddy Moloney
On why Dublin’s trad masters didn’t become the Beatles
By Margaret Moser, 2:47PM, Wed. Feb. 26
“Hello, Paddy Moloney here!” The voice is everything you imagine the elfin leader of the Chieftains to sound like. Irish lilt? Check. Way with words? Double check. Tales to spin? A million of ’em. So, take a seat by the hearth, because Dublin’s beloved trad Irish music act plays Riverbend Center tonight.
Moloney’s tenure as founder of the Chieftains has been no less remarkable than the band’s enduring oeuvre as musical ambassadors of Ireland. They’ve walked away with Grammys (six) and this year count themselves 54 years old with 58 albums under their sporrans. And despite their reputation for tradition, musical guests over the years include Ry Cooder and the Rolling Stones.
Which just means I never know what tale Moloney will regale me with when we talk, as we have a half-dozen times over the decades. Among the finest pleasures in 38 years of writing was my introduction in the Eighties by Stevie Ray Vaughan’s early manager Chesley Millikin to his fellow countrymen in the Chieftains. My girlfriends and I squired Moloney to the Shorthorn on N. Lamar, where he leapt onstage and played pennywhistle with Tommy Hancock and family.
The Chieftains’ recent Voice of Ages features Bon Iver, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the Civil Wars. Since no Chieftains show is complete without a cadre of local Irish performers, expect Austin’s fierce Celtic tribes to bring their best to the table. Guaranteed, the show tonight will brim with good humor, for Moloney loves few things more than ceol agus craic – music and a good time. He checked in from the road, reflecting on the events of February.
“When I think about the years gone by... We lost a founding member of the band,” Moloney lamented. The first person he asked to become a Chieftain, Sean Potts, had died three days before. “He was a great whistle player, and we go back to my teens.
“The Ed Sullivan show comes to mind because of the Beatles’ anniversary [of their American television debut]. Sean and I were playing in Galway, in 1959, Margaret, in a lovely little pub. We were on holiday. It wasn’t the Chieftains, just Sean and friends, musicians, singers, and dancers. Every night for two weeks we played and played, and word got out. It was incredible.
“This guy appears in the door, with a very flashy jacket and says, ‘I’m Ed Sullivan. This is wonderful music! I have my own TV show and I’d love you to appear on it!’ Now to me, that was an indication he was just another loud American blowing his coal, if you don’t mind the expression!
“Now, I didn’t have a television. I had a radio. That was 1959, and so when he said that, I said, ‘Okay! Right!’ and when he was gone, we made fun of the whole thing.
“Years later, of course the Beatles came along, and we realized what we’d passed up. But, of course, we weren’t the Beatles.
“We were the Chieftains.”