Honored February 21, 2004
Born in Drimnagh, Dublin 1948 to fiddle playing parents Patrick and Molly, the stars were aligned to place the young James Keane on a musical journey with all the giants who have populated the world of Irish music in the past half-century. Since taking up the accordion at age six along with his older brother Sean who plays fiddle with the Chieftains, he has been exposed not only to very talented musicians but fiercely committed ones who can take credit for saving traditional Irish music in the last century. Comhaltas and James were young in the 1950s but the influence of people like Seamus Ennis, Leo Rowesome and Sonny Brogan made a big impression. As a teenager he was part of the glorious multi-generational Castle Ceili Band who garnered an All-Ireland championship in 1965 with players like the Keanes, Joe Ryan, Mick O’Connor, Michael Tubridy, Bridie Laverty and John Kelly and dance music so lively it couldn’t be contained in Dublin music clubhouses. In the 1970s James was the dynamic box player who could sit alongside the Folk music stars who were then making a name for themselves in Dublin like Mick Moloney, Paul Brady, Christy Moore and Donal Lunney or later with Ryan’s Fancy in Canada and make everyone sit and take notice that traditional music was not meek nor mild nor content to die like the ashes in the fireside from which the music sprung.
James Keane immigrated to New York in 1968 establishing a residency at the John Barleycorn Pub in Manhattan. In 1980 he began a sojourn in Canada with the ballad group Ryan’s Fancy producing three albums and a television series before James settled back permanently in New York. Harkening back to his Dublin youth when the set dancing and music was legendary in clubs like Mrs. Crotty’s and the Church Street Club, James was a spark in NY set dancing revival in the late 1980s into 1990s with stints at McGovern’s in Sunnyside and the Cork Lounge. His tunes, lift and drive continue the tradition since he joined the New York ceili bank Ceol na gCroi recently. Keane has been prolific on the recording front having released six solo albums culminating with a triumphant return to his native Dublin result in James Keane and Friends: Live in Dublin released on Lavalla Records in 2002. James and his wife Therese reside in Bellerose with their two sons Seamus and Brendan. He also has his own website at www.jameskeane.com.
– Paul Keating