The Real John McDermott - A Canadian Treasure

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

John McDermott is such an established name, there is no need to describe the talent of this amazing Canadian tenor. But there is so much more to this man, both in song and spirit. The thing that strikes you the most when you speak to him is his passion for life, music, family and tradition.

John Charles McDermott was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but immigrated to Canada with his family in 1965, becoming part of the major diaspora that came from across ‘the pond’ to settle here for a better life. Like most Scottish/Irish families, he learned his love of music with the Saturday night sing-a-longs at home, where neighbours and friends all gathered to sing Harry Lauder, Andy Stewart and all the other songs 'from back home' that kept their heritage alive in this new country.

“I never had any formal training, other than with St. Michael’s Choir in 1971/72. We didn’t even have instruments at home when these parties would occur. The family would just bellow out the tunes, and that was my formal education into the world of using your voice. I tinker about on the piano and guitar, but my voice was the first ‘instrument’ I learned to play.”
McDermott has come a long way from when he first recorded his signature tune, “Danny Boy” in 1992,which was picked up and released in North America by EMI Music Canada and achieved triple platinum sales. To date John McDermott has received five Juno nominations (1993–1998) and a wonderful media honour was when The Chicago Times called him the ‘worthy heir to the famed Irish tenor John McCormack’.

John McDermott and Jason FowlerJohn McDermott and Jason FowlerFollowing this unexpected success,McDermott decided to pursue a professional singing career. He performed his first concert at the Rebecca Cohn Theatre on 5 October 1993 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there he continued to tour the rest of Canada, performing as an opening act for The Chieftains. Throughout 1994 he went on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, following the great success of "Danny Boy", which had been ranked Number 1 on the charts there and achieved triple platinum in New Zealand. Next, in 1995 he went on a tour of Britain with The Seekers. “It was a wonderful time touring with The Seekers; I had always loved their harmonies and arrangments. I considered it an honour to be in such great company and to experience vocals at its best.”

At this point in his career, McDermott was becoming recognized internationally, so he started to tour regularly as a solo act rather than an opening act. He also appeared at several special events including the D-Day ceremonies in France in 1995, and the US Democratic National Convention in 1996. He has also appeared on TV several times, both as a host of CBC Television concert specials in 1997, and in his own television special titled John McDermott: A Time to Remember, which aired on PBS in 2002. He formed The Irish Tenors, and after performing a large concert in Dublin, Ireland in 1998, they spent some time touring the US, appearing on TV, and releasing a gold record.

In 2000, a transitional home for veterans in Washington, DC, was named John McDermott House. His album, Journeys, featuring the haunting song "Bringing Buddy Home", was record to help support fundraising for Fisher House Boston. In 2010, John registered a not for profit foundation called McDermott House Canada to support veterans and veterans causes; the initial project is the renovation and expansion of the pallative care unit located in K (Veterans) wing in Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto. "When I first started out I promised my father if I had great success, I would always remember the sacrifice our military men and women made to give me that freedom. I am fiercely passionate about keeping the awareness and respect for our military and for the ultimate sacrifices they give and continue to give to this day.My father, Peter McDermott was in the RAF, my Uncle Michael was in the Gordon Highlanders and died in Changi prison camp in Maylasia in WW11.I am passionate about these causes, and continue to tour heaviy throughout November every year to perform concerts for Remembrance and Veteran's Day events."

For his support for veterans' causes, John McDermott was made an honourary member of The War Amps and has received The U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor Society's Bob Hope Award. His most recent accolade was in Boston on the Anniversary Birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. "Congressional Medal of Honour recipient Tom Kelley made a presentation to me on stage of the Ted Williams Globe and Anchor Awards. I was humbled and proud, and it made me realize we have made a difference for veterans by doing these concerts."

With dozens of albums still available in his catalogue, McDermott still continues to record; with two CD's encompassing his heritage, entitled simply, 'Scotland' and 'Ireland' you will find all the traditional songs but produced and arranged with more of an acoustic flair. The full list of CD's available is on his website. (see below) 

The McDermotts on their Wedding DayThe McDermotts on their Wedding DayHis most recent offerings on the new album ‘ The Old House ’ (with Jason Fowler) shows the very eclectic side of  your musical tastes in the songs you have now chosen to record.choose, ‘I’m My Own Grandpa’ (Lonzo and Oscar hit in 1947, redone by a few others like Ray Stevens and Steve Goodman, and of course The Muppets) As well a Goodman friend and supporter, John Prine, your version of Sam Stone is haunting. How did you chose the songs for the new album? “Jason Fowler has been an inspiration on this venture. It has been a long awaited collaboration, which has resulted in such a wonderful offering of acoustic versions of classics and new songs. “All the Diamonds” that Jason (Fowler) had been telling me about for years is especially close to my heart. I was recently driving down the 400 once and listening to the CBC when this version came on that took my breath away. I had to pull over and when they announced it was Raylene Rankin singing it, I almost wept. Her version is so beautiful, and I hope I did as well with that song. “Wild Mountain Thyme” has always been a favourite of mine to sing, and doing this really cool, almost country folk arrangement was again an inspiration. The title tack ‘The Old House’ is also a great coupling of Jason and I putting our own touch on it.”

Also steeped in tradition is McDermott’s dedication CD to the Irish poet singer/songwriter Thomas Moore, with the most famous piece of Moore's ‘My Gentle Harp’ being the title track. This is a ‘must have’ for history buffs and music fans alike.

Couple all of this recording, touring for the veterans and then add in the holiday season, and John McDermott now is on the road for his annual Christmas Concerts, and some venues will have special guests as well.

December 7 Newmarket Theatre Newmarket, ON 778 9957311
December 8 Casino Regina Show Lounge  Regina SASK.
December 9 Brock Centre for The Arts St Catherines, ON.
December 11 Sanderson Centre for the Performng Arts Brantford, ON
December 12 Burlington Performing Arts Centre, Burlington, ON
December 16 Koerner Hall, Toronto,ON
December 20 Midland Cultural Centre Midland, ON
December 21/22 The Gibson Centre, Aliston, ON

John McDermott has a firm grasp on where he is going in his life, but most of all he has never forgotten where he came from – as they say ‘he is all that and a bag of chips!”

For more on John McDermott and his Tour Schedule visit his website at