Christopher Dean at the Celtic Cafe


Interview by Alfredo De Pietra

The Celtic Cafe is grateful to Keltika Magazine of Italy for sharing some of the work of Alfredo De Pietra, its Music Column Editor, translated into English. Click here for Alfredo's bio page at the Celtic Cafe, with links to his other features available here at

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Christopher Dean - The Gael

From America comes a sensitive, passionate and precise musician who possesses a repertoire of Celtic song and ballad for the solo acoustic guitar.

The topic of the guitar in Celtic music becomes richer with a new person. An artist with a diversified musical background and philosophy, who breaks away from the stereotype of a Celtic guitarist. We speak about the American, of Scottish heritage, Christopher Dean. He is introduced to us on this months Keltica music sampler with two selections from his last album, "The Gael".

On many occasions we have listened to the "Celtic Guitarist" who prefers to play at supersonic speed, is able to impress us, but, because of a preference for that technique, does not hit the listener's imagination, to the detriment of emotional communication. Above all, with this kind of traditional music of Celtic origin, the result of this type of perspective does not allow the listener the important contemplative aspects associated with the interpretation of the melody. Obviously, reels, jigs and fiddle tunes (dance music) demand a dynamic approach, but many guitarists seem to concentrate on playing the instrument rather than the music. The music of Dean is exactly the opposite of this position. Very rarely have we heard a more sensitive and expressive guitarist who communicates through his Taylor guitar.

At a first listening, you might even think that he could be an instrumentalist playing with a simplistic technique, but this is not the point: it would be unfair to name other guitarists, but rather than many guitarists with a muscular approach to the guitar fret board, he is a musician who succeeds to render, in a subline way, the expressiveness of the music, transposed on a difficult instrument, like the guitar.

The relationship between Christopher Dean and the guitar began at an early age. At the age of five he received his first guitar from his grandfather, and was taught the rudimentary principals. It was an encounter that would mark his life in a definitive way, until today. The fifty-five year old musician began to perform professionally in 1966 in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 18. His band, the Night Sounds, was a quartet specializing in rock and R&B, who toured the southern states of the U.S.A. (they were also the opening act for The Doors). After some years we find the guitarist in the Rick Durham Band, touring the Los Angeles area. Following, an artistic interval that coincides with military service.

Upon his return to Tucson, Dean begins to study fingerpicking, and, after seven years (and moving to Southern California) he returns to public performance, but playing the banjo with a repertoire oriented towards bluegrass. From 1980 to 1986 it was the banjo that was mainly performed by Dean. During that time, he performed in a series of competitions in the category of bluegrass banjo. For the next 10 years (1986-1996) he stopped performing on a professional level in order to deepen the study of the history and characteristics of Scottish and Irish music. In 1996 he returns to public performance, and this time with a repertoire formed exclusively from traditional and contemporary folk music, arranged for fingerstyle guitar.

In the course of the last years, his popularity has quickly grown, and the presence of Dean is now a consistent on the American Celtic folk music scene. The American guitarist traveled to Scotland in search of his own roots and family ties to the clan MacKay. His first album represents a superimposed image of a photograph he took on that trip. The panoramic photo of Ruthven, in the Highlands, was the scene of a battle when the English Queen sent her army to destroy the society of the clans.

As a result of the encouragement of the popular Scottish artist, Dougie MacLean, Dean decided to record his first album, "Highland Heritage", which was published in the autumn of 2000. With the success of that Celtic guitar album , he released his second album, "The Gael", two years later. We introduce the readers of Keltika to the title track, "The Gael", and the evocative "Ye Banks and Braes O' Bonnie Doon".

MacLean writes: "I have known Chris for several years both as a friend and a musician. He is an accomplished guitarist and is conscientious and committed about the style of music he chooses, to the extent that he has set up his own record label and released a fine, well researched album of Scottish and Irish tunes. He has a long association with the music business, having started as a teenager, to the present where he has recently performed with several notable figures in the Celtic arena, and which I feel is just recognition for his effort and ability. I also know he has been getting an excellent response at his gigs and I am sure this will continue to be the case. I am happy to support Chris in his efforts and to recommend him to you."

The two pieces drawn from "The Gael" on Keltika's sampler CD clearly introduce us to the artistic philosophy of this guitarist. His music is more relaxed and calm than the average of his colleagues (who rely on a typical repertoire of dance music). The beauty of the lyrics are transposed into his arrangements. It's not by chance that slow airs and ballads predominate on this album which seem to communicate to us the importance of the melody in the traditional music of Scotland and Ireland.

"The Gael" is, perhaps, one of the most famous pieces of contemporary Celtic music. The tune was written by MacLean in 1990, and originates from his album "The Search". Two years after the release of that album the tune was chosen by 20th Century Fox for the movie soundtrack "The Last of the Mohicans". in 1995 MacLean was awarded a gold record for that contribution. In the last several years "The Gael" has been recorded by several musicians (in Italy it continues to be used in the spot advertising for a brand of whisky...), but we are proud to announce that Dean's arrangement is the first version for guitar.

"Ye Banks and Braes O' Bonnie Doon" is a song written by Robert Burns. As in many cases, he wrote the lyrics and adapted them to a pre-existing fiddle tune, "The Caldonian Hunts Delight". In this version, Dean celebrates the arrangement of Tony McManus. The Gael can be acquired directly from the record label Cairney Hill Music: telephone 001-619-258-2699; Web:; or e-mail for information by clicking here.

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Interview: Alfredo De Pietra
Feature: Bernadette Price
Original Web Design: Alexander Servas

Christopher Dean
Christopher Dean



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