In a career spanning over three decades Cork-native Freddie White has established himself as a legendary Irish guitarist and songwriter. He has also been described as the best interpreter of a song in the country and has been ranked alongside Christy Moore, Van Morrison, and Paul Brady. As a founding member of Scullion in the mid 1970s he brought Irish folk music to international attention and later, with The Freddie White Band, he toured with Eric Clapton. As lead guitarist with Horslips and Moving Hearts and as producer with Sinead Lohan he further enhanced his reputation. After many years living in the USA he returned to Ireland in early 2000 and since then has become an almost constant presence on the Irish touring scene. Galway audiences will be very familiar with his much-loved shows at Roisin Dubh down through the years and he makes a welcome return to the venue on Sunday August 24.
Having grown up in the seaside town of Cobh on Ireland’s southern coast, White had, from an early age, the spirit of a travelling troubadour within him and began playing music professionally in his early teens. At the age of 19 he moved to London and began busking the subways. However, at this time there was a thriving folk music scene in Dublin around acts such as Planxty, The Bothy Band, The Johnstons, and The Dubliners.
“With Scullion I broke through during that period as well,” says White. “There was plenty of talent around at the time. How it happened for me was down to one TV appearance. Before ever I recorded anything I was asked to go on a show on Teilifis Eireann, as RTE was back then. I more or less got coverage across the country because it was one channel land. Television was a very new phenomenon and so everybody watched every single programme. I played Bob Dylan’s song ‘Hurricane’ and I was amazed by the reaction because after the show I started getting calls from all over the country to perform it. Prior to that I’d only played in Dublin and a bit in Cork.”
Over the course of the next decade Freddie White became best known for introducing the songs of other, mainly American, songwriters to the island of Ireland. Throughout his career he has reinterpreted the songs of Tom Waits, Randy Newman, John Hiatt, Guy Clark, and Frank Zappa (his unique renditions of the Waits’ classic ‘Martha’ and Zappa’s ‘Po-Jama People’ have become live favourites around the world ).
“That’s probably what I’ve become recognised for the most and obviously I’m delighted,” says White. “Guy Clark, even today, always thanks me at his gigs for my interpretations of his songs. I had an opportunity when these guys were completely unknown to sort of take their songs and kind of put my own stamp on them. I’d been introduced to their music in a couple of different ways in that when I was living in London I first heard what they were about. Then subsequently I had a good friend in Dublin who had a very extensive record collection which I raided through. I picked up all these songs at the time and they were as new to me as they were to my audiences. I think I’ve always had a good eye and ear for a song and I hope that it’ll continue.”
White’s passion for music is evident from a conversation with him and we imagine that it is the same as when he started out more than 30 years ago. His most recent album ‘Stormy Lullaby’ (released in February this year ) features songs by Randy Newman, John Hiatt, and Hoagy Carmichael. If you want to see someone who truly inhabits a song then go see Freddie White.
Tickets available from Roisin Dubh, Redlight Records, and Zhivago Records.