Bob McCarthy


Bob McCarthy is a sadly lesser-known treat for lovers of good, solid soulful blues picking. His near-fifty year career has seen him climb from the sixties coffee-houses of New York’s Greenwich Village – a breeding ground that spawned many top names including Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Dave Van Ronk, and which offered the young McCarthy an open musical door and bags of confidence-building experience – to opening shows and sharing the stage with the likes of Jorma Kaukonen, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Nanci Griffith, Taj Mahal, The Beach Boys, Linda Rondstadt and countless others; in short, a true who’s who of modern US acoustic-roots music.

Words by Iain Patience

Now based in the beautiful, leafy backwoods of New Hampshire, McCarthy can still be found picking guitar around the East Coast and giving his time and talent generously to numerous deserving local causes. His recording credits span many years with his two most recent offerings, ‘Sudden Light’ and ‘Where I Live’, both leaning towards a deft, light jazz touch, soaked in soul and steeped in the tradition of the old blues masters.
McCarthy’s guitar fretwork is always tasteful and gripping, guaranteeing a pleasant earful for listeners and fans of good old-fashioned quality music. And he is as comfortable picking a Mandolin as a guitar, which he also does with positive zing and class.

Often accompanied by his long-time buddy James Montgomery, one of the USA’s finest blues-harp players, he always remains close to his roots with blues tracks spilling out and providing the background music to an eventful and satisfied life in the busy, oft over-crowded professional music lanes of the USA.

For many years McCarthy was the guitar-man with one of Ireland’s greatest traditional music exports and experts, the late Tommy Makem, an excellent five-string Banjo player with a distinctive line in Aran Knit Sweaters and an encyclopeadic knowledge of and immersion in Irish traditional music. And although he too, with Irish blood in his veins, loves the Irish traditional genre, he confirms he is most at home with blues music, his first love and now a lifelong passion:
“I am a working musician with emphasis on work. I remember reading where Robert Johnson sang Irish songs during St. Patricks day because he was working and it is hard to make a living as a musician. I liked traveling with Tommy Makem very much and he treated me well. I like playing the Blues with James Montgomery and love playing Jazz too and love playing the electric guitar because I like paying my mortgage and supporting my family. Not very romantic but true. I played a duet once with Larry Coryell, played guitar on hit LP record on Columbia (CBS) with pop rock artist Andy Pratt and toured with the Columbia (CBS) group Appaloosa both signed by Clive Davis; also love playing with Black Gospel singer Lillian Buckley. It has been an interesting career but it is what it is. I play mostly acoustic blues and ragtime these days, solo or with James Montgomery or with my friend Tom Logan and Reed Butler who played bass with Paul Rishell and Annie Raines. I don’t use a pick but a thumb pick sometimes. I play in the Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and Piedmont finger style of Mississippi John Hurt and Rev Gary Davis. I have performed with Paul Geremia and I love to play slide on my Blue National. I have been doing this for 50 years. Pop Staples gave me the idea about singing in nursing homes and hospitals and I do that as well. I bring my dog Beau on those gigs. Roy Bookbinder came to visit me once here in this house in NH. I wasn’t home, so he rented a boat and went fishing till I got home and then we walked down the rail road tracks near my house and talked about life and music, we have known each other for many years.”

In many ways, Bob McCarthy’s personal philosophy might be found in the title of what is, perhaps, his finest album, ‘Satisfied Mind’. Released a few years ago back in 2006, ‘Satisfied Mind’ includes great takes on ‘Pallet On The Floor’; When The Lord Gets Ready’; Deep River Blues’, ‘Trouble In Mind’ and a raft of other blues standards plus his own fine composition, ‘No Score In Baltimore’, a track that harks back and echoes the spirit of the acoustic sets of the sixties and guys like Jackson Browne picking for nickels and dimes in Village bars.
McCarthy has just released a new seven track disc, ‘Trouble In Mind’ on his own Wandra recording label, a vignette in many ways of his music, with four tracks featuring Montgomery on Harp, taken from the earlier ‘Satisfied Mind’ album and the remaining three tracks being instrumentals with a notably light jazz feel, culled from another, earlier release, ‘Star Of The Sea.’

Anyone yet to catch this guy and his music might take a hint of his ability and quality from Jorma Kaukonen’s thoughts about him: ‘If there were any justice in the world, you’d be a well-known BIG DOG!’

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