Ronnie Drew, 1934-2008

Irish music lost one of its most venerable elder statesmen this past weekend when Ronnie Drew passed away at the age of 73. Drew was a founding member of The Dubliners, who together with The Clancy Brothers re-vitalized interest in the traditional songs of Ireland in the early to mid sixties. Songs like "The Wild Rover," "Whiskey in the Jar," and "Finnegan's Wake" have become Irish standards largely because of The Dubliners.

Drew certainly didn't have the purest singing voice in the group; that belonged to the late, great Luke Kelly. Instead, Drew had a very distinctively deep and rickety voice that, as he put it, was "more of a storytelling voice" than a singing voice. Indeed his voice is something of an acquired taste, but it had more than enough character, combined with Drew's strong personality, to make him an effective vocalist regardless.

In their songs, Drew and the Dubliners told many stories of Ireland in general and their home city in particular. They also wore their strongly left-leaning politics on their sleeves. Their defiant attitudes and lifestyles, combined with their staunch refusal to compromise and insistence on calling things exactly as they saw them, made The Dubliners heroes to Irish bands from subsequent generations like U2 and The Pogues.

Drew first left The Dubliners in 1974. He returned in 1979 and stayed with them another sixteen years, before leaving the band for good in 1995. He continued to draw crowds as a solo artist, and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to review the opening night of a multi-week run of shows at the Irish Arts Center in New York City in 2004. He seemed full of vigor and vitality at the time, but sadly his health started failing shortly afterwards.

"Finnegan's Wake"

In 1987, The Dubliners and The Pogues teamed up for a rousing version of "The Irish Rover." Drew and Shane MacGowan share the vocals.

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