About The Band
Boston Blackthorne is also proud of our deep songwriting bench- the original songs of Boston Blackthorne have won several international songwriting competitions including first place in the International Narrative Songwriting competition and honorable mention in the International Songwriting Competition. The song “Christmas in Pittsburgh, 1943” was a top 5 song in the Celtic Christmas category on Amazon and iTunes for several weeks. In addition to their own albums, Boston Blackthorne songs have been featured on compilation albums produced by Marc Gunn and the Celtic Music Podcast. Their songs are often featured on the podcast and the album County Kerry to Kerry Park was a featured album of the year.
The band’s sound is centered around powerful vocal harmonies and lead vocals shared by several of the members. Between the 5 core members instrumentation includes fiddle, 4&5 string banjo, harp, 6&12 string guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, bass and drums.
So who are these extraordinary fellows?
Jim has been a professional folk singer since he was in his teens. His first band, Saint James Gate was a staple on the legendary music scene in Northampton MA in the 1970s. Often on weekend nights, when the local bar he was playing in closed down for the night he would head over to another bar (that seemed to have a magical later closing time than any other place in town) where his friend Jon Lees was doing a solo gig. Their late set collaborations led to the establishment of O’Connor and Lees, a folk and original duo that traveled around New England into the early 1980’s.
Jim relocated to New York City where he played numerous solo gigs at clubs in the Village and uptown. Jim also played guitar in the Paddy Noonan Band, perhaps the most well-known of the many Irish “showbands” around at that time. He also became a member of the house band at Tom O’Reilly’s where he played guitar backing for Celtic trad luminaries including Joe Burke, Andy McGann, “Banjo” Burke and Johnny Cronin. Those wild, late nights are captured in the song “Back When the Craic was Grand” which won first prize in International Narrative Songwriting Contest.
Jim was also a member of the comedy troupe at New York’s Westbeth Theatre as opening act for many of their performances. He performed a night of his original material at Westbeth, backed by a band that included members of the touring bands of Phoebe Snow, Lionel Hampton, Hugh Masakela, Eartha Kitt and Robert Palmer.
After a few years in New York, Jim returned to Western Mass where on the shores of Highland Lake, his friend Jon Lees uttered these fateful words, “Hey, O’Connor, why don’t we start a Celtic band?”
Jon is another Western Mass native who got his start in the Northampton music scene of the 1970s and 80s. After some time on the solo circuit Jon joined a trio, the Tom Willets Band. Playing acoustic guitar and vocals Jon toured extensively with the band who were an opening act for musicians including Billy Joel, Maria Muldaur and Jonathan Edwards. From there Jon and Jim teamed up as O’Connor and Lees.
Jon provides distinctive lead vocals, acoustic 6 and 12 string guitars and harp in Boston Blackthorne. He is also a great songwriter. His song “Wasn’t That You” was a winner of the Boston Phoenix songwriting competition. His songs are somehow simultaneously topical and timeless. “Gone to the Wars” (from the album “Better Late than Ever”) was written during the first Gulf War and remains incredibly relevant today. The song may be seen as taking an anti-war stance but was adopted by a crew in Iraq who played it often in their Humvee. St. Peter’s Lament (County Kerry to Kerry Park) is about the decline in the New England fishing industry,
Jon’s powerful vocal style and driving acoustic guitar playing are a big part of the uniqueness of Boston Blackthorne’s sound.
Jim “Chetz” Keegan
When O’Connor and Lees were looking for a bass player and vocalist to deepen their sound they turned to Jim Keegan. Jim has been a well know player on the Pioneer Valley music scene for many years as part of bands including the Sock Hops, John Sheldon Band, Al Fuller Band and many others. Chetz provides distinctive backing vocals as well as some of the most inventive and melodic bass playing anywhere in the Celtic music world.
Chetz is also a gifted songwriter. His song “Queenstown” is a beautiful and heartbreaking retelling of the voyage from Cork to New York so many of our ancestors took during the famine. Those who are heard-hearted about the plight of modern-day immigrants could be enlightened by a close listen to the lyrics of this tune,
Jim and his wife Barbara are currently putting the finishing touches on a musical called “Shy”. Members of the band have contributed to demo tapes for the show in the hopes you will see it on Broadway soon.
Pete was the next member of the band, originally playing electric guitar and bass. After a couple of years he began immersing himself in Irish fiddle music and has become a great interpreter of the Celtic fiddle. Pete also plays mandolin and bouzouki in the band.
Pete has been a frequent presence in the vibrant Irish session scene in Boston and it has taken him from porch festivals to playing on an Irish schooner cruise. Pete’s distinctive fiddle style and encyclopedic knowledge of fiddle tunes make him an integral part of Boston Blackthorne’s sound.
Dale Monette has been Boston Blackthorne’s drummer and percussionist for over 20 years. His ability to bring a variety of drum kits from a single snare to a full set and make them all sound like they belong in the mix is due to his incredible feel for Celtic music. Dale has also been a member of numerous Western Mass bands including John Coster, Wildcat O’Halloran, and many others.
Dale can be found at dawn nearly every morning hiding out in the wilds of the Quabbin Reservoir waiting for the wildlife to appear. His book “Secret Lives of the Quabbin Reservoir” is a classic collection of photographs of the diverse denizens of this incredible Massachusetts wilderness. Dale is also an aficionado of early rock drummers.
Many of Dale’s stunning photographs can be found throughout our site. For more content, check out his photography website.