IN THE 1930s at the height of The Great Depression in the United States a songwriter and bandleader by the name of Bob Wills toured with a 21-piece orchestra bringing joy and cheer from coast to coast. Wills was a huge influence on performers such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens, and John Prine and is widely credited with raising the spirits of a nation through his Western Swing ensembles.
Some 50 years later in the mid 1980s a motley crew of former showband performers and traditional musicians under the moniker of Chris Meehan and his Redneck Friends travelled the roads of rural Ireland bringing a heady mix of rock ‘n’ roll, country and swing to the masses. They were described by Hotpress magazine as “the hottest honky tonk band east of the Pecos”, and were an inspiration to bands such as The Waterboys, The Hothouse Flowers, and The Saw Doctors.
After a hiatus of some 10 years Dublin-based barrister and sometime country-rock singer Chris Meehan has brought his redneck friends together again and they play the Hotel Meyrick on Friday September 4. “In the show we’re including a tribute to Bob Wills and the spirit of bringing a little happiness to people through music,” says Meehan. “We hope that people will come along to our show and dance the night away and forget about the bad times for a while”
The current line-up of Chris Meehan and his Redneck Friends numbers 16 individual musicians and includes some of Ireland’s most talented and well-respected musicians such as Percy Robinson in pedal steel guitar, Gerry O’Connor on banjo, Matt Cranitch on violin, and Eamon Murray on saxophone. “They’ve all been trained in different disciplines,” says Chris. “Bobby Kelly, and Francie Lenehan on lead guitars come from a showband background. Gerry O’Connor and Matt Cranitch are outstanding Irish traditional and American bluegrass musicians. Eamon Murray, who plays harmonica and tenor saxophone, comes from a blues background. I think when you mix all those elements together it works very well. Everyone comes from a place where improvisation was encouraged so they’re more inclined to experiment and play with the music. I wouldn’t say that I went out with the intention of collecting together an eclectic bunch of musicians. They were all interested in different types of music and they were open-minded about playing styles like rock ‘n’ roll, country, and Cajun”
Earlier this year the band released a new album entitled Dancing In The Kitchen and it was produced by veteran Nashville producer and part-time Galway resident Jim Rooney. “I got to know Jim through a Dublin musician who worked in Nashville for many years by the name of Philip Donnelly,” says Meehan. “I was visiting with Philip one time and part of his large circle of friends that evening was Rooney, John Prine, and a host of other American musicians.” Meehan and his band have been a hugely popular live draw in Galway in the recent past and have been regularly joined on stage by a host of top musical talent. “We played several times at the Galway Arts Festival and we did various gigs in Seapoint and all our around Galway,” Chris states. “What I’m excited about with this upcoming gig is the fact that we’re going back to the Great Southern Hotel, or the Hotel Meyrick as it’s called now. There’s a photograph from a concert we did there in August 1987 on the back of the album cover and it was a brilliant night. We had Philip Donnelly and John Prine on stage with us and Frankie Gavin made an appearance also and played a few tunes.”
Another memorable night for Chris Meehan and his band in the west of Ireland occurred in September 1997 when Ivor Novello-winning singer-songwriter Mike Scott joined them on stage. “Mike got up and did a Hank Williams song during one of our appearances at the Clifden Arts Festival and on lead guitar that night was the late great Jimmy Faulkner” says Meehan. “I am a huge fan of The Waterboys and it’s no exaggeration to say that they were one of the biggest bands in the world at one time. In the late 1980s they really captured the zeitgeist of that time with their raggle taggle sound.”
By the late 1990s Meehan decided to disband his group of redneck friends and return to his successful law practice. “It was the right time to stop touring,” he says. “Tastes were changing and the type of music we played had kind of run its course. Now though a lot of people who danced to our music back in the day may be feeling a bit nostalgic for those carefree times”
In American westerns and country songs the lawman is always the guy bringing justice and order to the lawless men of the town. Meehan’s double life as barrister and guitar slinger gives him a unique perspective on his old-time story. “I always saw the lawman as the good guy,” he says. “He was the guy who came into town and rescued people from their troubles.”
For tickets to see Chris Meehan and his Redneck Friends phone 091 587419