"Paddy Keenan!" exclaimed an Irish musician friend, upon discovering just who I was interviewing for The Celtic Café this month. "He’s amazing, that’s real musicianship." He paused to consider a moment and continued, "I hear he’s a real moody one."

Articles and gossip about the man call him dark, enigmatic, a "massive presence," the long rider, moody, quiet, deep—Paddy Keenan once told Colin Harper for Folk Roots that "I do have a bit of a reputation, I know." Something of an understatement, there. Dónal Lunny, a Bothy Band-mate, described him as "the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes" while others compare him to John Coltrane due to his genius for improvisation and counter melody, his musicianship in Irish and other styles of music from bluegrass to jazz, his sheer driving power. Stories abound of a hard-drinking, rock-and-roll lifestyle and mindset.

Nothing prepared me, then, for Paddy Keenan as he is today: a soft and well spoken man with an infectious laugh, who has found peace with himself and his past, who still fiercely believes in ideals that wouldn’t be out of place in a younger man, and who has carved out a deeper place for himself in the pantheon of Irish traditional music with a critically acclaimed "comeback" following the old Bothy Band days and the darker days that marked his absence from the Irish traditional music scene.

Shaskeen uilleann piper Pat Broderick, owner (with his wife Anne Marie) of Cregg Castle, Co. Galway, is a close friend of Keenan's. "I believe that Paddy is the best piper in the world, " says Broderick, nephew of the great piper Vincent Broderick of Kilreekle (and many say his successor). "He's very knowledgeable about the music. If you watch him play, you'll see the pipes go from his body—an extension of himself."

Though they've called Keenan the King of the Pipers for years, the appellation embarrasses him, and he wishes they wouldn't. But it's too late—a head crowned unwilling is still a head crowned. Paddy Keenan is the piper's piper, the best of the best. The interview that follows is what might possibly be the most candid and frank interview Paddy Keenan has ever given in a life full of sorrows and joys, triumph and anguish. Please join us as we follow the life and times of Paddy Keenan as remembered by the King of the Pipers himself.

Click on the buttons to the right:
Paddy Keenan's website
info on The Long Grazing Acre below

Keenan’s new album, out this month, is titled The Long Grazing Acre, a reference to the Irish nickname for the narrow plots of land that Pavees were begrudgingly allowed to camp and graze their animals on.

The album is both innovative yet firmly rooted in the tradition, and carries out Keenan’s philosophy as he writes in the liner notes, "Every time I play something will change. Be different no matter how subtle." Tracks range from the old familiar tunes to songs like Rolly Salley’s Killing the Blues. The Long Grazing Acre includes many original tunes, notably Mary Bravender and Brother John for, respectively, Keenan’s beloved mother and eldest brother John Keenan (October 1947-March 2000).

A personal favorite among the many is the lovely Jutland, composed by Tommy O’Sullivan, his graceful guitar work to the fore, Keenan on the low F whistle and pipes. In Keenan’s able hands, the pipes take on something of the smoky flavor of a muted jazz trumpet drifting in the background, the whistle’s voice as subtle and nuanced as any wooden flute.

Keenan and O’Sullivan are on tour this month in support of The Long Grazing Acre. Check the website for their touring schedule and to purchase the CD.

Check out the MP3 excerpts from The Long Grazing Acre, exclusive to the Celtic Cafe!

Track 1: Lost and Found/The Hag at the Churn/Wind Off the Lake

Paddy Keenan: Uilleann Pipes
Tommy O'Sullivan: Guitar/Hi Strung Guitar
Greg Sheehan: Percussion/Shakers     James Blennerhassett: Bass

Track 7: Stranger to Himself
(Sandy Denny)
Tommy O'Sullivan: Vocals/Guitar
Paddy Keenan: Uilleann Pipes
James Blennerhassett: Bass     Greg Sheehan: Percussion     Mary Green: Vocals
© 2001, Zina Lee