Home About Johnny Keenan The Banjo Festival Photographs News Contact Us About Longford Links
Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival
About Johnny Keenan About Johnny Keenan
  About Johnny Keenan
The Keenan Family
The Tribute Concert

It's quite common, when a person dies, that the loved ones left behind will attempt to enhance that person's memory with excessive praise. In the case of Johnny Keenan, all praise is legitimate.

Johnny was born into music and began playing at a very young age. His father, John Sr. was himself, a gifted musician and instrument maker.

The Keenan household was a breeding ground for some of the finest music in Ireland. The nightly sessions at their home on Oranmore Road became legend in Ballyfermot, Dublin. Often referred to as "Radio Oranmore", family and friends would gather together to share their talents and often the music continued well beyond the social hours.

Highly regarded among his fellow musicians as a master banjo player, Johnny was a multi-instrumentalist who easily turned his hand to fiddle, low whistle, uilleann pipes, guitar, etc. But he did favour the banjo, as he often said that the banjo had posed the biggest challenge, so he persisted until he mastered it. Anyone watching Johnny play would have thought the banjo was the easiest instrument, as Johnny played with such ease and the music flowed so freely.

Both Johnny and his father were pioneers in Ireland in the art of "thimble playing". While most banjo players in Ireland still use the traditional plectrum, Johnny preferred his own homemade thimble, which added to his unique style.

Johnny spent much of his youth exploring the world. Traveling around Ireland with his friend Davy Spillane they often found themselves in various parts of the country in search of music and adventure. Davy, himself, considers Johnny one of his mentors and can recount numerous occasions when Johnny generously shared his wealth of knowledge and talents.

In the early years, Johnny often went busking, along with his father and friends Ted Furey and Paul Furey. He spent time touring with The Furey Brothers during the 1960's, calling themselves The Fureys & Johnny Keenan, before forming The Pavees group with his father and brother Paddy. The Pavees' performances nationwide drew multitudes of fans and musicians alike. Their weekly appearance at Slattery's of Capel Street (home of The Chieftains) became known as The Pavees Club, and guest performers often included Christy Moore, The Black Family, Frank & Patrick Cassidy, The Glackins etc. There were various incarnations of the Pavees and other members included Johnny's other brothers Thomas and Brendan, as well as George & Paul Furey, Sean Garvey, Mick Moriarty, Liam Weldon.

After the Pavees, Johnny formed Tipsy Sailor with Kieran Halpin, Sean Howley, & Mick Fitzgerald. Tipsy Sailor made their mark on the Traditional music world during the turn of the decade (into the 1980's) and toured extensively throughout Ireland, playing the festival circuit. They were regular performers at The Meeting Place, on Dorset Street, Dublin...one of the most prestigious folk venues of the time.

Johnny and Kieran Halpin toured extensively throughout the UK, Europe, and America...but when back in Dublin he played in O'Donoghue's Pub faithfully. In recent years, along with singer/guitarist Raphy Doyle, he made Monday nights "the night" to be in O'Donoghues. He was at home there and considered his fellow musicians to be extended family members.
Although Johnny never got around to recording a full-length solo release, he featured prominently on a number of recordings. In 1975 he played on his brother Paddy's first solo release on Gael Linn, alongside his brother Thomas, and Paddy Glackin. In the sleeve notes, Seamus Ennis commented that Johnny's "effortless picking" on the banjo was unmatchable. One of the best displays of Johnny's talents occurred on an album Johnny made with the Cassidy's (Frank & Patrick). Recorded in Wales during the mid 1980's, the album featured Johnny on banjo, fiddle, and low whistle. As it was often difficult to draw him into the studio to record, this is an album to cherish!

Johnny's funeral on Wednesday, 29 March 2000 in Longford was attended by a plethora of musicians, some of whom traveled from as far away as America. Those in attendance included Paddy Glackin, Matt Molloy, Micheal O'Domhnaill, Gerry O'Connor, Irene Guckian, etc. The music played was second to none, with Johnny's brothers Paddy and Thomas (along with Davy Spillane, Martin Denning, Martin Nolan) leading the ceremonies by the grave. The music continued on throughout the day at the local community clubhouse. It was a fitting tribute to Johnny, who was loved far and wide, not only for his exceptional talents, but for the good decent friend he was to everyone.

(Irish Music Magazine, May 2000 © 2000 C. Onanian)

Tel: 087-281-7825 or from outside Ireland: +353-87-281-7825   All Rights Reserved. Johnny Keenan © 2009