1964 – 2006
In 1979 I came to America. I kept learning songs and playing the guitar in various little ensembles covering the gamut from rock to blues to folk to country. But it wasn’t until 1986 that lightning struck in the form of the man whose picture you see above.
We happened to be at a pub in Petaluma, Ca. for an Open Mic night when a slightly built young man with tousled, curly hair and a guitar took the stage and proceeded to change my life.
This was Seán Oglesby, from Dublin, Ireland.
That day, he sang some songs I was hearing for the first time, yet they felt immediately familiar. The chord changes and gorgeous melodies resonated with me, and the plaintive lyrics spoke to me in a way no other songs had. When the set ended, I went up and introduced myself to him and asked him about the music he had played, and we became fast friends. Seán came over to our place where I recorded him singing and playing Irish songs, traditional as well as contemporary, for hours, and he introduced me to records by Christy Moore, who was his great idol, Mary Black, Planxty (with Donal Lunny), De Dannan, Moving Hearts, Clannad, and others. These were artists of the `70s revival, approaching the tradition with the attitude of the time. Where there was a certain stodginess and old-fashioned air about the previous generation of Irish musicians both here and in Ireland (e.g. The Clancy Brothers, The Chieftains), these guys came at the music with youthful defiance and a rock-and-roll energy.
Seán and I started playing together on a regular basis. (He took to calling me Django to distinguish me from another friend of his named Michael.) We gigged for almost four years, mostly at Jasper O’Farrell’s Pub in Sebastopol (where the b/w photos on this page were taken) and the Plough and Stars in San Francisco. During this time I made numerous musical acquaintances and immersed myself in the Sonoma County music scene, meeting for the first time fiddlers and other players of traditional American, Scots and Irish music.
By 1990, Seán was making plans to return home to Ireland. He was having a hard time keeping afloat financially in Reaganomics California, while in Dublin a job with the city government was waiting for him. We decided to make a recording in a small studio, committing seven songs to tape, including “The Brink of the White Rock”, which Seán had learned from his older brother who penned the translation from the Gaelic, “The Banks of Sulán”, from the repertoire of the great Cork balladeer Jimmy Crowley, and “Johnny O’Rourke”, an uproarious Irishized version of “Johnny B. Goode” that we had come up with one very special afternoon aided by the Ballyfermot broccoli.
Seán decided to call the recording “From the Blue Greenhouse”.
He returned to Dublin before the recording was finished, and it was left to me to finalize it. This was my first production job, and considering I knew almost nothing beyond what I liked to hear I think it sounds pretty cool. I mailed the tape to Séan in Ireland, and that was that.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I wanted to keep playing Irish songs, and that I wanted to learn more of the traditional repertoire as well as educate myself about the huge other part of Irish music: the tunes. I kept hunting down and buying rare imported records and tapes at festivals and specialty stores, and endeavored to expose myself to as much live Irish music as possible. In the course of my investigations into Irish history and art forms, I began to grasp the concept of Celtic culture and the connections with Scots, Breton, Welsh, and Galician music.
This led to the formation of Greenhouse. I decided on the band’s name as a nod of appreciation to Seán, who had opened this fascinating new world to me, and because it resonated of the Emerald Isle.
I did not see Seán again until September of 2004, when Patti and I visited Ireland for the first time. Seán joined us in Cork, and we traveled around the West for a week, having great craic, and finished up in Dublin with a roaring evening at a quayside Jury’s hotel. That is where the color photo on this page was taken. It was the last time I saw him.
We were planning another trip to visit Ireland in 2006 when we got the call from Seán’s brother Tom saying that Seán had passed away. It was a shock, but not entirely a surprise, as Seán had complained of being in poor health in his e-mails. I miss him terribly. There has been no other person in my life who was such a dear friend, and so influential on my musical development. He will not be forgotten.
I am making available the CD “From the Blue Greenhouse” through this website for $12 including shipping. Proceeds will be sent to Seán’s family for maintenance of his gravesite. To order, send an e-mail to: