CEILI RAIN is an original, innovative blend of pop-rock music with a dash of Celtic/Irish flavor and a subtle, but sincere, uplifting/joyful message. The band is led by front man, Bob Halligan Jr. As a songwriter, Bob Halligan, Jr., has had over 140 songs recorded by well-known rock artists, including Cher, Michael Bolton, Judas Priest, KISS, Kathy Mattea, Bob Carlisle, Rebecca St. James, Jump 5, Maire Brennan and countless others. He has published over 975 songs and his songs have sold more than 30 million units.
The discography of CEILI RAIN continues to grow due to the overwhelming support of a seriously committed underground fan base. Fans of this band have given up everything to drive across the country to follow their favorite fella's and label artists representing a variety of musical styles have even gone on to cover CEILI RAIN tunes. The band currently has 7 recorded CD projects many of which have received significant critical acclaim. CEILI RAIN has been recognized with numerous UNITY AWARDS, and has 5 music videos that are played on music video channels around the world.
CEILI RAIN has played some of the top venues in the country including Reliant Stadium, The RCA Dome and The Georgia Dome. They have played many key festivals from Kingdom Bound to Creation Fest to World Youth Day. They have been invited to perform at numerous Celtic and community events from the Slainte Festival to the Bethlehem Musikfest. They have played at major conferences including NCYC and Youth Specialties and have even performed for major corporations like Nextel. But hosting CEILI RAIN on a more intimate level is always an option too as the band has been invited to perform at weddings, house concerts, benefits, fund raisers, private birthday parties, and other special events. International travels have taken them to several countries including Canada, Belgium, Italy and others.
Although a concert attendee gets the most "bang for their buck" when the band performs as a full 6 piece, smaller venues can also have access to CEILI RAIN in other combinations to accommodate a more limited budget.
So...Kick off your shoes, stand on a table, grab yourself a pint, dance a jig and join CEILI RAIN as they carry on in their pursuit of heavenly partiness!!"
These guys deserve to be heard by the entire world. Their potential is limitless because they have an appeal that knows no boundaries. Ceili Rain music makes your feet want to dance and your soul soar!" ~Billboard Magazine
Bob Halligan Jr.
After hearing our first two showcases at Douglas Corner in May 1995, dear friend Dan Keen from ASCAP sat me down and said: "Bob, buddy, I think you have to decide if you want this be a Christian band or a mainstream band." My reply set up & defined the joys & struggles of the ensuing 9 & 1/2 years: "Dan, I have decided, I want it to be CEILI RAIN!"
Stupid or stubborn, you decide!
56 band members into it, I still love the mission of this group as I see it, which is to bring faith-based music to people of all faiths (and no faith); to encourage people to talk to (and more important LISTEN to) God whether or not they feel the slightest inclination to do so; to mix rock'n'roll and Celtic flavors in a way that is exciting, danceable, joyous and musically solid.
I recently read a bio that suggested most bios are flowery and fake, better to relate "just the facts, m'am." Good idea, so here goes:
Born Jan 3, 1953, Our Lady of Victory foundling home, Lackawanna, NY. Adopted By Robert and Grace Halligan, March 1953. Started singing in Kindergarten performance time; "The Night They Invented Champagne!" from "Gigi"
1958 Fell in love with rock'n'roll while recovering from tonsillectomy.
1959 Along with millions of others, saw Beatles on Ed Sullivan and everything seemed to change.
1964 Played in first band with lifelong friend Michael Coward; "Michael and the Archangels"
1965 Started 2nd band with neighbors Ricky & Gary Gove and schoolmate Eddie Popcun: The New Regime.
1966 Wrote first song, "The Door is Open."
October 1968. Led 63-member HS folk group.
1970-71 Graduated w/ BA in English lit. from Hamilton College, realized I was going to make music a career.
1975 Married to Linda, my actual better half.
October 18, 1975 Professional period for my college rock group Steak Nite (later renamed Pictures) with Jeb & Jock Guthrie and Ace Sollinger.
1975-1981 First music publishing deal, United Artists Music, November 1979. First cover recording, "The Best of Me" by white South African group Clout; a hit in Europe, appears on 3 "K-Tel" compilation records as well as original album and 45.
1980 Relocate from Syracuse, NY to NYC in attempt to jump-start music career.
1981 First Contemporary Christian cover recording, "Fly Me To Heaven" by Rick Cua (fellow Syracusan and eventual founding Ceili bassist)
1982 First major cover recording: "Take These Chains" by Judas Priest, which also becomes the first of 9 or 10 gold or platinum records.
1982 Played and sang on Rick Cua's "No Mystery" album, recorded in UK, my first performances on a "real record" that actually enjoyed significant release.
1983 Judas Priest records "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" which becomes the hit track from album "Defenders of the Faith" and sets me up as the heavy-metal song doctor.
1984 Writing heavy/hard stuff, 27 songs released in one year, can't write them fast enough.
1985 Dad Bob Sr. dies in January; I explore a duo with friend Rob Friedman called Quiet Earth; work extensively with Joan Jett; Blue Oyster Cult records "Beat em Up" & "Make Rock Not War."
1980 Co-writing, under guidance of manager/co-publisher Barry Bergman, with Michael Bolton, Arnie Roman, Phil Galdston and Martin Briley (among others) in a learning phase. Still searching for that "Bob sound" that will make me famous.
1986-90 Have personal-best background vocal recording session day- record with Billy Joel for "Oliver & Company" animated film in afternoon; record with Michael Bolton for his first hit album "The Hunger" in evening.
Birthday 1987. Hit hot streak with covers by Cher, KISS, KIX (Don't Close Your Eyes, #11 on Billboard Hot 100, Gold single) and Michael Bolton.
1988 thru 1990 Wife Linda suggests mixing Celtic music and rock'n'roll- I laugh- then try it and love it instantly.
1988 Get a recording contract with a major label- ATCO, part of Atlantic Records and the home of AC/DC- on the strength of material written in 86-90 co-writing period.
1990 "Window in the Wall" by Bob Halligan (they wouldn't let me use the "Jr") released on ATCO to the sound of one hand clapping- NOT the platinum-selling success I'd planned on. 1991 Move from NYC to the country, Pawling, NY. Son Liam adopted from Korea. 1991 I experience depression, resentment, confusion and bitterness at failure of artist career and disconnection of writer-for-hire career. 1991-92. First Ceili Rain demos made. 1992 More demos made; the music business, including my manager, is deeply perplexed. 1993 Discovery, thru urging of co-writers Stephanie Lewis and Lorraine Ferro, and the unearthing of Latin origin of "coeli", that Ceili Rain is a "calling" not a career. Final demo made with producer Steve Lunt, (discoverer of Britney Spears)
1994. Relocation from NY to Nashville, initial 7-piece line-up of Ceili Rain unveiled. 1995 "Riverdance" a major smash, Halligan accused of cashing in on the Celtic music craze. 1995 thru 2004- the Bliss That I'm Swimmin' In!
"Three-time." An abbreviation, a nick name. Also known as "canoli," (the Italian pastry), sometimes "Buddy Colony," occasionally "Jersey Guy" or "Box-Boy," but "three-time" probably is the only one that really tells you something you need to know:
Buddy Connolly is a Three-Time All-Ireland button accordion champion. Thus he was three times the best in the world in his age group. I don't know how many of you have been the best in the world at something, but I have to believe that for most of us it's a hard feeling to imagine. So let's all bow before Buddy Connolly? Not a false god, just a world-champ.
Old friend and manager Fred Kewley mentioned to me one day in early 1996 that he had heard about a young accordionist in the NYC area who was a great all-around musician. My ears perked up, since our then-accordionist Phil Madeira was a multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter who had no long term designs on a career as a box boy. I spoke to this young northeastern fellow on the phone, got him to send some samples of his work on a cassette.
Come May ‘96, the Ceili Brigade was asked to do a showcase for Warner Brothers and Phil was in England, so I phoned his wife Elinor to let her know that I needed to get the young gun to sub for Phil. When Buddy arrived in Nashville, I realized he was a guy I had seen in a club in NYC two years previous and wanted to talk to but circumstances made it awkward. He played the Warners show with us, and afterwards fiddler Chris Carmichael said to me: "I hope he can do some more shows with us!" The esteem in which I held Chris's opinion caused me to really consider making a move. I then called Phil in England and started my speech, and he had seen it coming and said: "Bob, it's cool, I understand completely."
Thus began a now eight-and-a-half year run for Buddy Connolly as the Ceili accordionist.
We do play some shows without Buddy, as he may have family commitments or a long-term music engagement, but as great as whomever is who may fill his spot, there is always someone who says "I missed Buddy!" It's hard to tell if it's an issue of how long he's been in the group and how well he knows the music, or how good he's gotten at covering whatever was on the record or had been played by the fiddler that no one else is covering.
Buddy makes a lot of music! That's the best way to say it. Music has three elements, melody, harmony and rhythm. There isn't one of these Buddy doesn't provide in abundance and with style. Surely there is no better all-around accordionist on the planet.
We Ceili folk are lucky- there was once a pre-Ceili- period John Mellencamp audition which Buddy hear about a day or two too late. Praise God for that, for with his playing, his looks and his personality he would SURELY have gotten that gig inside 5 minutes. Fortunately the Chieftains don't seem to need an accordionist, for that would certainly be the end of us!
I once asked Buddy if he was a serious practicer as a youth, to get as good as he is on the button accordion. His response: "My lesson was on a Thursday. On Wednesday night, I would take the accordion out of the case and take a few whacks at the piece of music." The rest of us mortals had to practice a bit- it hurts to hear this story, Buddy!
One of the New York Yankees' most loyal fans, Buddy shares this passion with his gorgeous dancer-wife Joanna, and is no doubt instilling it in his sons Christian and Daniel. Should the boys decide along the way to play an instrument, let's hope that if they inherit dad's practicing approach, they also inherit his gigantic talent. Buddy is a phenomenon as a musician, but it is Buddy the man whom we all love the most.
Tim was a referral who I believe came through Rick Cua somehow or other. He is a piano player who got pretty skilled on the piano-style accordion, and got us off to a terrific start in May of 1995 at Douglas Corner, then carried on with the group into December.
Tim was a terrific performer who lit up the stage and had a wonderful appeal to the female population. His arranger/producer mindset caused him to play all the right things and know when to play nothing. He didn't stay on long enough to be on any recordings, but would no doubt have been a real asset on that turf.
I later made some demos with Tim, including " ‘I Love You' Always Works'" which appears on the "No You" disc. Many thanks Tim, hope to see you along the path!
Phil replaced Tim Lauer in January of 1996, and did a bang up job with the group until Buddy came along in May of 96.
He is a wonderfully talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and had played on hundreds of albums through the years, most commonly on the Hammond B-3 organ. Phil's outrageous sense of humor and brilliant musicality were exciting to have in the group.
Thanks, Phil, for a great season with us, however brief.
John has done a FAB job filling in for Buddy when needed over the years. He is a 610-Philly/PA guy, and very much a traditional Irish box player.
John is a great man to have join the crew, he is super reliable, always pitches in to help whomever with whatever, and we don't see him often enough! John has played shows at the Tin Angel, Great Valley, south Jersey, you name it.
A grand fella and an excellent button accordionist, John we salute you!!
Susie has done many shows with the group over the years (TBN, K-LOVE w/ Jon & Sherry Rivers, Tampa, Nashville, Syracuse Irish Fest, Saskatchewan, many others.) She is a dear friend of Gretchen, and a very easy person to be around.
Susie mostly has filled in for Buddy, but also took the place of a fiddler now and again. Her sense of humor would often be evident in her "Hug Yourself," the greatest example of which is the time she did dueling banjos with herself, switching from banjo to accordion. She was in a group called the Buffalo Gals, which was the first all-female bluegrass group on the planet, and has rubbed shoulders with many notables of that genre as a result. Since playing with Ceili she has also played a good bit with Nancy Griffith.
Susie is a very talented sculptor/visual arts person, with an endless stream of creativity. No doubt you'll see Susie with us again along the trail!
The Ceili Kidz first met Daniel when he was about 14 years old. His mom and dad, Vanessa & Paul, had been "hosting" us (finding beds where there were none, feeding us, tolerating us) when we'd come through their area, and over the course of several visits, we spoke about his own musical exploits.
On a stay in Woodstock- the family hometown- we had a Saturday night off, and Daniel was playing a show locally with a "hard core" band- meaning the singer screams unremittingly from note one on. We decided to go & show support for this fine young man we had been watching grow up. I was immediately struck with his outgoing stage presence, how his smile lit up the room. Standing in the club, as the "mosh pit" began to take shape and devour all youths in its path, my position on the floor became gradually untenable, so I found myself outdoors on a summer Saturday, sitting on a railroad tie. Maybe you've noticed that if you are outside of a building that has a rock band playing in it, all you can hear clearly is the bass guitar.
Oh happy accident! As I listened to Daniel's bass lines, I noticed how amazingly steady and solid he was, and how his note choices seemed right at every turn. LIGHTBULB OVER HOOLI-HEAD!! Not long after, parental blessing obtained, 17-yr-old Daniel found himself in Ceili Rain, not having to repeat his "hard core" experience of sleeping in a van or doing a tour and coming home with $18.
He began his tenure in September 2002, so it's been nearly two years of service to date, and so many of us are so thrilled to see it!! He's recently purchased a 5-string (after always using a 4), which he's gradually getting comfortable to balance in the air with one hand and hurl-and-catch for his dramatic trademark end-of-show extravaganza.
Daniel is a great entertainer and a fine young man we are all pleased to know.
Since joining the group and playing half the new album- the other half was studio-ace Tony Levin- Daniel has also recorded with other artists, and most notably done the bass tracks on the background music for 2003-04 ABC sitcom "I'm With Her." He found himself playing at NYC's Bitter End on a recent Monday, and no less a bassist than David Letterman veteran Will Lee congratulated him on a great show as he left the stage.
Will was not being phony-nice- this young man can play!!
"Dance With Me" and "Still the One" are songs everyone knows, and can sing the lead to if not the harmony. Lance Hoppen DID sing the harmony on those numbers as one of the Hoppen brothers in the group Orleans, a band that carries on to this day, but graciously loaned us this good-hearted man when Rick Cua departed Ceili Rain.
Lance started in early 1997 and did about an 11-month stretch. I remember so clearly, after an LA showcase in which Matty Fisher played whistles, flute and sax, Lance declaring to me: "This band has to have pipes!" While it hasn't always been convenient to find someone who plays whistles AND pipes, Lance's pronouncement has stuck! Beyond his many other business contributions, Lance's real gift was music, and he played like a man and sang like a bird! We even did a show with Orleans in Poughkeepsie once (thank you Bob Lynch!) and Buddy and I got to be Orleans men for a day.
An experience we'll never forget. Likewise, we'll always appreciate Lance's contributions to the Ceili Cause!
Next in line on bass came Andrew Lamb, a friend of drummer Lang Bliss. He came to the house to rehearse, and when he left my wife Linda said: "I'll take three of those!" I took this to mean that our string of bass players who appealed to the females was intact.
Right she was! Andrew played with us for a year give-or-take, starting in 1998. A great appearance on the main stage of Creation Fest with us was one of his final gigs, after which he felt called to pursue other avenues.
Bob 'Buff' Harmon
When the next bass man came along, imagine my horror to discover his name was Bob! As he hailed from Buffalo, I was reminded immediately of "Buffalo Bob" from Howdy Doody fame and coined the nickname for him.
The bassists' appeal to the females continued with Bob "Buff" Harmon, as did dynamic bass playing. Buff also brought a terrific team spirit and a desire to see the band move forward and climb the ladder of success. His playing and singing are featured on both the "Erasers" and the "No You" records, as well as the live "Party" CD.
Buff was introduced to the brigade by then-soundman Joe Calabrese, and proved a durable presence in the line-up. He lately has found himself in more the production side of things, with talk of a future in audiology. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, Buff will always be remembered and appreciated.
Rick Cua was a man when I was still a boy, so he has always been like a big brother to me. Original is a word we can use extravagantly with Rick, speaking of his personality, his playing, his status as owner of his 1964 Fender Precision bass. Not the least of these applications is to Ceili Rain- he is the original bassist, the original right-hand in the group.
Rick and I met in 1974, a business relationship that grew into his managing my much younger rival rock group. Next move was to write a bit together, something we continue to do however sporadically or theoretically. He's co-writer of 2 songs on the new "Change in Your Pocket" CD, but most notably co-wrote probably our best-known song, "That's All the Lumber."
In one van ride from Rome to Torino in 1988, we wrote 3 cappuccino-aided songs, two of which were hits for Rick's solo records, one of them being the Christian Rock song of the year for 1989.
I remember Rick's 70s rivals in Syracuse guessing that it was his "magic" '64 P Bass that generated that amazing sound of his. But when one of them borrowed it for a studio session, the producer later told me "he still sounded lousy!" Rick's approach to bass has personality, it knows what it wants to do and it carries the rest of us along with it.
My favorite studio memory is a technical difficulty on "Long Black Cadillac" which forced him to redo his part at a later date. He plugged in his bass, got tuned up, and the tape rolled- once. Musicians will marvel at the fact that the brilliant bass part on that tune was done in one take with no fixes.
Rick's contributions to Ceili in the beginning- helping find many of the players, suggesting approaches to music and commerce- more than repaid my right-hand role in his illustrious Christian music solo career. So thrilled to finally get our 1995 song "Stomp" on a CD, and assure that Rick's honorary lifetime Ceili membership remains in full-force for all to hear!
Combining the classic Ceili ingredients for a bass player, (good looking, terrific player, great attitude) Matt Mason is the latest to join the fold in a big way. Hailing from Poughkeepsie, NY, Matt can lay it down solidly, or get pyrotechnic in his "Hug Yourself" extravaganza. We suspect he played the snapping and popping on Seinfeld, yet he may have been a bit YOUNG when that was recorded!
Matt's one great flaw is that he is five-and-a-half inches taller than Hooligan, an affront I've yet to forgive. Perhaps in time! I shall retaliate by making him reach for things that are too high for poor little me!
Anyway, thrilled to have this solid Young Gun on our side, watch for him to blossom into one of the Great Ones!
In 1997, Ceili had lost its original guitarist Tony Hooper, and gone through a couple interim steps in search of someone permanent. Friend Gary Vincent told of a fellow who plays and sings well and produced a phone number for a guy called Raymond Arias. I got Raymond on the phone and asked him what music he grew up on. When he said "The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix" I said "You're in!" He came round the house, we played and sang, it was a perfect fit.
August 2014 will mark Raymond's 17th Anniversary of being in the group. We all would rather not think about how many miles that means he's had to travel to Ceili gigs. Raymond is a road warrior though, neither a whiner nor a complainer, a steady hand in a sea of unworkable PA system situations, a beacon of logic in a world seemingly bereft of reason. His son Cole has made it harder for Ray to make those Nashville departures, but has also made it all the sweeter to return!
Raymond hails from Madera, California, and is 100% Mexican-American. He played for a year in California with our once-and-O'Ceisional drummer Chris Eddy, who seduced Ray into making the Nashville move in the 1990s.
Raymond has that great Stratocaster he has played through all these Ceili years, and brings a serious-rock-dude vibe to the group which all rock fans love. He has muscles in places I don't even have places, but he is gentle as a lamb, very slow to anger. Raymond has made many friends along the Ceili Trail, but admits that remembering names is not a long-suit, so if you see him and he calls you "darlin" or “hey, man" understand that there is no disrespect intended by this fabulous guitar-slinger. And if you've heard Raymond's trademark versions of "Alright Now" or "Wild Thing," you know that his vocal chops are equally serious!
Ray usually sings the high harmonies with Ceili, but if it's a low part you fancy, he has a gorgeous deep baritone range, and his speaking voice is one of those classic "radio voices.” Ray brings so much to the Ceili sound, but at the end of the day, all the Ceili Kidz will tell you that Raymond is a great roommate and a great friend, not just a great musician.
Our original guitarist came to us from Red Bay, Alabama. Brought into the fold by Rick Cua, Tony was an amazingly capable player and singer. He could play bues like crazy, had mastered the Chet Atkins pickin' style, and could rock and play fusion with the best of them.
Tony's soulful vocals would often be turned to something spiritual when his "Hug Yourself" came around. All the electric guitar work and half the backing vocals on our first CD, "say KAY-lee" are courtesy of this fine talent.
Tony would make a 3 & 1/2 hour trip to play shows with us in Nashville, which in those days seemed like an epic journey. He was never without a kind word, a quick joke or an easy smile.
Tony split to pursue, among other things, an acoustic act with Rick Cua. But there's a part of Tony we feel has never left.
As Tony used to say, we hope he's "hangin in there, like a hair in a biscuit!
Bruce filled the gap for a show or two as we searched for a replacement for Tony Hooper. He was committed to another group, so we moved on quickly, but Bruce did a terrific job in his short stint. We never did an "away game" together, but his Nashville appearances were just fab. Hoping to see Bruce again at a reunion gig down the road.
A Canadian songwriter friend of mine from my BMG days, Naoise (say "NEE- shuh") did a few shows to help out. He lent a great British-invasion vibe that fit in perfectly. Naoise taught me a great way to play a G Maj 7 chord that I've since used with appalling regularity. Great guy, great sense of humor, wonderful songwriter as well. A Juno winner (Canadian Grammies), we know you'll hear more from this terrific talent.
On those very rare occasions when Raymond isn't at a show, Paulie is the man. Paul is a long-time friend of the group. Perhaps his greatest contribution is son Daniel on bass! But that gives short shrift to the emotional/road managing/nuts'n'bolts/hospitality help he has supplied seemingly without limits.
Paulie does a great job on guitar, but can also fill in on bass in a pinch and do a terrific job. He has introduced us to many new friends who've become like family- he and his family ARE family to us. An example of his bottomless Paul-ness: When the Halligans moved from Nashville back up to New York, Paul flew from Albany to Nashville, helped me load my mom's stuff in the trailer, then drove my car w/ my mother in it to Syracuse- this took a day-and-a-half- then helped unload at my mom's new place and our place. I spell friend: "P-A-U-L."
Bill Bleistine first joined the group in July 2003, and is now the longest-tenured drummer in the Ceili Parade! Bill played on all four of the most recent CR discs: “Whatever Makes You Dance,” “I Made Lemonade,” “Manuka Honey” and “Hymns & Hers.” The greatest beauty of Mr. Bleistine is the inner beauty. This is a terrific guy, always treating everyone he meets with respect. He is a fabulous band member, as he pitches in and makes the calls for rental cars, arranging for PA and accommodations at venues, taking the marching drum on the plane (oy, what a pain), doing whatever task comes along that needs tending to. And Bill is super-personable, always reaching out to the audience before and after a show, always making everyone feel special. Bill is also passionate about the Ceili music & mission, and relishes the freedom he has to interpret the songs in his own way.
Bill's wife Aly is his greatest booster, and he wisely seeks her "better-half" counsel along the road of life. Bill's drumming skills are most evident when he takes his "Hug Yourself” solo, but his ensemble playing is also amazing! Hailing from Lebanon, PA, Bill started playing drums at age 10, and has played live since age 14. He played for years in cover bands and Christian bands in PA and then when moving to NJ. Bill made the move to Nashville in 1999 in pursuit of his dream to play original music on a bigger stage, and was there until July 2013 when he moved to the Cincinnati area. Lucky for us all he didn't stay in PA/NJ! Long may he sit in the Ceili drum chair!
This guy was referred to us by my friend Ronnie DeRollo, and Ronnie hates EVERYBODY, so we knew Robbie had to be good! So far he has played with us at the Syracuse Film Festival and in Kingston, NY on 5/1/04. He's slated for our Sept 11 show in Lancaster, PA. Robbie is a terrific drummer with the all-important Central New York/Italian pedigree. When we can tear him away from his full-time job at Syracuse University, he will fill in for Bill where needed. Welcome aboard, Robbie!
If you're the son of a man who is in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, but want to establish yourself as your own person, music could be a challenging career choice. Duane Eddy is a tough act to follow, and son Chris has followed him- and then departed to create his own path.
Joining Ceili in the summer of 2000, Chris had World Youth Day in Rome as one of his first gigs. BOY was he good that day! Chris understands in the way only real performers do what the word "showtime" means.
He is a super-empathetic player as well, and epitomizes this phrase: "He doesn't play the drums- he plays the songs!" Chris gets the drummer punctuality award- no drummer living or dead is as consistently on-time (or EARLY!) as Chris Eddy.
Chris is himself a terrific singer, and displayed those wares in his "Hug" from time to time. A contestant on Star Search as a young man, Chris also drummed with his dad and many notables along the way. He has recently made his own record with Michael McDonald producing, and we're hoping he has the success with it that Michael has just experienced with his "Motown" record.
Chris remains an O'Ceisional Rain man, most recently doing the show opening for Audio Adrenaline in Verona, NY in July, then hitting favorite spot Tin Angel, where the band sounded as good as it ever has. We'll see you again soon, Chris!
We did a show in NJ with John, bit of a four-piece unplugged affair. A great hand-drummer, John also does nice work on the full kit. We met him at the Salem, MA gig in fall of 2003. You'll see him again, you will!
Next customer, though only for one show at the original Café Milano in Franklin, TN in 1995, was old friend Nick Distefano. Nick wrote a big hit for Joe Cocker in the 80s, and has drummed with Marie Osmond and T.G. Sheppard. We DID rehearse, Nick & Rick Cua and I, but truth be told he would've been fine without it. Hoping to see Nick again- on drums or bass, who knows- before the Ceili Train pulls into the station for the last time.
Author of two tours of Ceili duty and the funniest moments ever on the Ceili stage, Lang Bliss is one of those unforgettable people.
A friend from Rick Cua tours and videos, Lang joined the group in '97. In finding his approach to his "Hug," Lang once- at the Ohio Irish Fest, to be exact- said "I've been working on a skit," to which Hooligan replies: "Great, you're doin' it today!" Lang protested a bit, but jumped out of the plane that day into a most splendid free-fall of stand-up comedy that ANYONE who saw us during his tenure will remember. There was "Angus," Scottish drummer in the heavy-metal band "The Exploding Thistles. There was the English clothing stylist who starts: "So I get this phone call from Terry, he's got a photo shoot he wants me to do with this group called ‘Ceili Rain'." Very rarely there was drummer Tex who played "all styles," then proceeded to play them all with exactly the same beat, including the one with an "odd time signature: one-two-three-four-five-six-se-ven."
Many people thought Lang was English; he even occasionally fooled a Scotsman into thinking he was a fellow countryman!
Drumming powerfully and consistently, Lang kicked the band hard and always added to the "show." His boys Zane and Niles must be so big by now! He's been known to revisit now and again, so if you see him insist on the return of Angus!
Those of you who've heard our live CD, "We're Makin' a Party," have heard Nick Buda's amazing drum chops. Nick did a stint with us starting July '99, and is best remembered for his uncanny Berklee-honed drumming intricacies. Getting a great sound on his drums, Nick always kept the music interesting. Spiritually, Nick was our "great atheist experiment!" Nothing appeared to rub off at the time, but mayhaps Nick will check in with an update somewhere down the path. Originally from South Africa, Nick will be reaching his drumming peak just about now- so watch for him!
As a result of him doing a several-month period in 2001-02, you'll see Mark in the video of "Barely Stay Inside My Own Skin." He since has played with the Katinas and Zoe Girl. Mark is a solid drummer, and never finds himself short of jokes and humorous remarks. We got to watch his face the first time he saw Niagara Falls, a real pleasure. Mark enjoys chatting with the missus on the "smell phone." His stint with the Ceili Kidz is much appreciated.
Rocky has the right name. He is indeed a marvel. This is a drummer-and-a-half, solid, versatile, explosive. With the group a year and a half, Rocky made friends everywhere he went, for he's as likable as he is talented. He always made time to visit with kids who wanted autographs, with anybody who seemed to need his attention. And his showmanship was as good as anyone's.
Most memorable is the time we played the Gospel Jamboree in Saskatchewan, when a storm forced us off the stage and into the candle-lit-cafeteria. We did "Hugs," and when it came Rocky's turn he had no drums, so he banged on everything in that building, literally going from table to pot to pan to chair to floor to bench and back again. The cheers were long and loud, and echo still for us Kidz who were there.
During his Ceili tenure, Rocky also played shows with "Wildfire" Western star Michael Martin Murphy, and he carries on doing that to this day. Everyone who saw Rocky play loved him and misses him.
Songwriter friend Cindy Greene (co-writer of "Long For You") told me of a guy who played whistles and pipes and was "extremely handsome," and I was almost as excited as she was!
Skip came to a Ceili gig within a month and was interested, so Praise God away we all went! Starting at Ace of Clubs in Nashville, then a 2nd show on New Year's Eve 1997-98 at the Vineyard Church in Cincinnati, Skip on his own terms quickly filled the void left by Hunter Lee. He was an integral part of Ceili Rain 2.0 as it unfolded in 1998, the year of official release of the debut album. The Celtic section of Buddy Connolly, Gretchen Priest and Skip Cleavinger was a real hallmark of the group and put forth an exciting, cohesive sound.
Skip is a fabulous companion on long rides (you may gather there were MANY!), as he is a child psychologist and an NPR listener, a good formula for engaging conversation. Now a family man, Skip enjoys being with people and learning new things. In his travels, he has picked up an occasional spot with Michael W. Smith, in particular at Christmas tour time. Skip has developed a great love and ability for the uilleann pipes, as heard on the "No You-No Me" and "Change in Your Pocket" CDs along with his other fine whistle & pipe contributions. While he plays less with the group than he has in the past, there will always be a chair left set up for Skip Cleavinger.
Burt was Skip's suggestion for a replacement for him when departing on "Ceili leave" in November '98. Who knew we would get so many miles and so many smiles out of the wonderful Burt Mitchell!!
Burt did a two-and-a-half year stint with the group, and once Skip returned was still available to reappear. It’s so grand that he has become the “Heavy-Lifter” in whistle-&-pipe world again for these last many years. And as we always proudly tell our audiences, Burt is the instructor of bagpiping at the Virginia Military Institute.
Burt has a wonderful sturdy stage presence and a lightning-fast piping style that wins fans everywhere he goes. Notable about Burt is the fact that his pipe-instruction CDs are in use in Scotland, a place you wouldn't think would appeal to a "Yank" for help in that arena! Burt is truly one-of-a-kind, and we're thrilled he's The Man in the Ceili whistles & pipes chair. His playing is featured on the "Erasers on Pencils" CD, on "Pencil in Your Hand" from “Change in Your Pocket,” and he did all the whistles & pipes on our last three discs, “I Made Lemonade,” “Manuka Honey” and "Hymns & Hers." God bless ya, Burt Mitchell!
Jim is a brilliant reed man who can play jazz on tin whistle, never mind Celtic music. He did our first two showcases in May of 1995 at Douglas Corner, but bailed after that as the Hooli-madness mounted.
Jim was a terrific man to start us off at that chair; he carries on playing jazz in Nashville, insofar as we know.
Diane played the show at the original Caffe Milano in Franklin in summer 1995. She did a great job with the Celtic melodies, though the rock'n'roll instruments were probably a bit loud and obnoxious for her serious music background. She still plays in Nashville.
I first laid eyes on Hunter on 2nd Ave as he played his uilleann pipes. Figuring he was a bit "Braveheart" for our regular lineup, I forgot about him until the first time I walked into Sherlock Holmes Pub, where I was meeting with Margaret and Terry Widlake to figure out how to shoehorn 7 people onto their "stage" area. Terry said, there's a piper I ‘d like you to meet, and in walks Hunter, whose command of 20th century English was vastly beyond expectations.
This marked the beginning of a strange and wondrous journey with Bob and Hunter that sadly ended in his death a year and a half ago.
Hunter was the most talented person I'd ever met. He spoke three languages, played 13 instruments, he sang Celtic trad style, soul and even OPERA (most heartbreakingly in Italian.) His image- a blond, 26-yr-old biker with bagpipes- had vibe to spare, and he seemed a perfect match for where the group was headed.
Hunter figured out that, if whistle manufacturers weren't going to accommodate some of our in-between keys, he would have to take a hacksaw and fashion his own!
Probably his greatest instrumental talent was on the uilleann pipes, and he got an emotive, plaintive sound that is exactly what people want uilleann pipes to produce. Hunter was also very capable on highland pipes and Irish wooden flute, along with his terrific whistle playing. Huntie played all of these instruments on our debut CD, "say KAY-lee."
Hunter was a troubled, complicated guy. As talented as he was, I finally had to come to grips with the fact that NO ONE is irreplaceable, and Hunter moved on from the group. I never saw him again after that last meeting, and my whole relationship with him, looking back on it now, is a bittersweet memory indeed. We spoke on the phone one last time in the summer of 2000.
Hunter made serious contributions to the beginnings of Ceili Rain, and he was the embodiment of that all too oft-applicable phrase: "He was meant to be here, he just wasn't meant to stay." Joy and peace to you with God, Hunter, our brother.
Matty stepped in for Hunter in the Fall of 1997, doing a great job on some TX/CA gigs we had. In the midst of this Lance Hoppen hit me with the "This band needs pipes" epiphany, and we kept looking for someone who could hold down both whistle & pipe ends of the bargain.
Since those days, Matt has come back into the fold once or twice to fill a gap, and there's no one you're happier to see than Matty Fisher.
Great guy, fabulous sax player, also excellent on whistle and flute. We'll see you again before long!!
Catholic recording artist Sarah Hart has an ability on tin whistle which was put to use in the Ceili line-up in the late 90's, with the hopes that she would learn pipes as well.
Better her than me, I would never try it! Anyway, not everyone is destined to play the pipes, but we happily settled for Sarah's excellent whistling and terrific background vocals.
She played the Bethlehem Musikfest with us, and I'll be darned if I can say whether that was 98 or 99, so someone help me out! Sarah also has since played radio and European shows on whistle to wonderful effect! We'll see you again soon, SH!
John has just joined the Ceili Kidz and will be splitting the duties with Burt and Tyler Duncan for the foreseeable future. His last name (DRY-buhl-biss) requires a commitment to learn, but his manner is easy and instantly likeable.
John plays all the instruments Ceili friends have come to look for in that chair: Scottish highland pipes, Irish uilleann pipes, Irish flute and the various tin whistles in different keys to accommodate the key a given song is sung in.
His family is very supportive- in fact his daughter Hannah is a champion Irish step-dancer, so you may see her out on the trail occasionally. John is the eleventh in a line of great musicians at this chair (in fact he's taken to STANDING on the chair, a la Burt, when playing Highland pipes), and we're hoping he will stay aboard a good long while!
It turns not EVERYONE can swallow a sword, but this guy guy CAN! (He was a finalist on America’s Got Talent!) We first met Dan many years ago at an outdoor Ceili show in Nashville. Years later he joined us on our trip to Ireland w/ Ceili Pals, and memorably had fake arm tattoos and gross false teeth in when we saw him at the airport! He became ad hoc whistle guy on that trip, and has done several gigs with us since then, most notably NCYC in Indianapolis in 2011. We never have Dan on the Ceili Stage without a sword or two, and when he swallows be sure you aren’t the one he calls up on stage to pull the sword out! A great, fun guy, we hope u can catch him with us along the trail.
Bill is a Syracusan-transplanted-to-Nashville friend who filled in for Buddy or whomever a couple times along the way.
He's a terrific keyboardist and covered a lot of ground in the Ceili arrangements. Also a great guy to have in the van for a long ride! Bill, many thanks indeed!
My dear friend Michael, who as a phenomenal jazz/all styles keyboardist was somewhat underutilized in the Ceili setting, did a couple sit-ins with the group, and then did an actual gig to fill-in for Buddy in Nashville in October 2000. You can hear him lead the worship group at St. Philip in Franklin (my Tennessee parish) on Sunday mornings at 11AM (10 in the summer!) and you will be glad you did. Michael is the man who pushed me to "get my Catholic stuff together" several years ago, and my understanding of the Catholic faith became so much richer and deeper under his guidance. Also took a few music lessons from him along the way, managed to weasel it without paying, so Mikey I owe ya! If you need a keyboardist or arranger or someone to chat with on nearly any subject, Michael Alvey is your man!!
Eureka!! With Gretchen we found the perfect fiddler for Ceili Rain, a phenomenally potent combination of beauty, musical excellence and dynamic performance ability. Gret played with the group for four years, and when she left, the male Ceili listeners breathed a collective sigh of disappointment.
Gretchen was my "right hand" in the performance department. She had as a stated mission that she would make eye contact with everyone in the audience before the show was through. Everyone loved Gretchen wherever we went, and this was a result of her being naturally loveable and making a sincere effort to reach out to everyone she met while on or off stage "duty."
Gret is these days mostly pursuing her love of teaching violin, while mixing in some recording and live performance of more "acoustic" music, as the loud rock'n'roll of Ceili eventually wore her out. Once in awhile, though, we can convince her to reappear on the Ceili stage, and when she does the old magic is back without a blemish! Gretchen was a great band member and a great friend. She is married now- all you buffoons missed your chance!!
I met Joe on a Syracuse Stage production of "Big River" in which I was the harmonica player. Joe made it immediately clear there was a fiddle answer for me in my hometown! He subbed for Buddy frequently starting in March 2006, and when Buddy decided to take the full-time offer he got from Eileen Ivers, I asked Joe D if he would take over Buddy's slot in the band. Joe's reply was: "Lemme think about it- OK!" Years of music to my ears! Joe is a fantastic guy to work with who doesn't personalize the creative process, he just takes things in and gives you his best version of what you're after. A true pleasure to be involved with, he has a sneaky sense of humor that mightn’t be immediately evident.
Not a lot of fiddlers are also former power-lifters! In one of his previous lives, Joe could dead-lift 665 lbs! It's better if you don't even think about it, too scary. Good news- he is sweet as a pie. His other notable life saw him as a scholarship tennis player at DePaul University. Lots of talents for one guy! Combine it with the fact that he lives 4 miles from my house, and we've got a ballgame! And yes, he DOES root for the Yankees!
Joe has played fiddle and mandolin on the last three CDs: “I Made Lemonade,” "Manuka Honey” and “Hymns & Hers.” He has other great miscellaneous musical endeavors going, and he always has his own CDs and fiddle-teaching book available for sale at our shows. Some of the Ceili band members call him "Crazy Joe" (or CJ) after the Seinfeld character "Crazy Joe Davola." I just call him my pal who is a great guy with a terrific talent.
Kevin De Souza
Bill & I were working the Ceili merch/info booth at a conference in Cleveland in December 2008, and I heard a familiar R&B song from somewhere in the cavernous convention center. First thing I noticed was that the bass line was perfect. This made me assume it was the record- but no sir. Since I knew Ceili bassist Matt Mason was leaving the band, I was naturally curious to check out whomever was producing this great sound. I walked toward it, and saw an Hispanic-looking, handsome young guy with a 4-string in his hands. He had a great physical energy & presence. I kept inching closer hoping he wouldn't see he was being watched & listened to, but he was so good that I got REALLY close. He knew me by sight and started a bit. Meanwhile, I had background-checked him w/ good friend Tom Hild, whom I ran into on my way to watching the bassist in question, and Tom, under threat of physical harm, vouched for this kid as a top-notch human being. That was the day I met Kevin de Souza, and when you see him for your first time on the Ceili stage, you'll be as psyched as I was!
Hailing from the DC area, Kevin’s degree from college is in linguistics, so he's no stranger to the King's English. Kevin restores for us the youth appeal that Daniel Grimsland gave us years prior. Kev teaches bass and has another band called “Uptown Boys Choir" that he is involved with, but we're thrilled he can do the Ceili shows when needed. Please say hello to Kevin when you meet him, he is a FAB cat and will return your warmth for sure!
Having a gal behind the kick isn't a regular sight we see, but when she is, we sure do love having her! Liz Strodel has been playing the drums in the Syracuse area since 2001. She currently plays with a blues group called The Super Delinquents and recently released an EP of original songs entitled "Nights & Weekends". According to Liz, "she is honored to be a Ceili Rain stand in." Thanks Liz! (Photo By Amelia Beamish)