America: Some people can't get enough of the place. After visiting the U.S. for a two-week holiday at Disney World in February, singer-guitarist Davy Carton of the Irish rock band the Saw Doctors went back to County Galway for just one day, before crossing the ocean again for an abbreviated (14 dates, 13 cities) American tour. Come fall, the band will return once more for a more comprehensive sweep through the U.S.
"I really do like America," Carton says. "I like coming here even when we're not on tour. There are places in your country where the quality of life wouldn't be to my liking, but I could live in a lot of parts of America very easily."
Anyone with any familiarity with the Saw Doctors can guess in what sections of our nation Carton and the rest of the Docs -- singer-guitarist Leo Moran, singer-bassist Pearse Doherty, drummer John Donnelly, and keyboardist-accordion player Derek Murray -- would not fit. The Docs, like a true people's band, keep themselves close to their roots. They began life in 1988 in the small town of Tuam, County Galway, when Carton and Moran talked over a couple of pints and found they had the same taste in seminal rock and roll, British punk, and Bruce Springsteen.
Doherty, a Donegal native and a student at University College-Galway, was recruited, as were multi-instrumentalist John "Turps" Burke and drummer Padraig Stevens. Donnelly replaced Stevens shortly after the band started gigging around Galway. Burke retired in 1994 for health reasons.
Success in Ireland and Britain came quickly. Mike Scott, leader of the West Ireland band the Waterboys, released the Docs' first single, "N17," in September of 1989. The second single, "I Useta Lover," got to the top of the Irish charts, stayed there for nine weeks, and became the biggest-selling single in Irish history. A rerelease of "N17" gave them their second No. 1 single.
Could America have been far behind? In a word, yes. Although the Docs toured yearly in the States, it wasn't until the Paradigm label released Sing a Powerful Song -- a compilation of the Saw Doctors' best-loved songs from their three European albums -- in the fall of 1997 that the band had a full-length American album. Their first collection of new stuff to be released on the left side of the Atlantic was Songs From Sun Street in 1998.
Yet the Saw Doctors visited the States relentlessly. Carton says it was less a case of them concentrating on America than America concentrating on them.
"Americans are the best audiences in the world, at least for us," he says. "Americans still love rock and roll. In England, there's a certain coolness to rock music. I don't mean like, "Hey, cool man.' I mean they're not as enthusiastic about it as Americans."
The land that gave us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Clash not enthused about rock and roll? What's up with that?
"Dance music is really big over here," Carton says. "Pop music, too. It's the influence of MTV. Boy bands are huge in Ireland."
Say it ain't so. Thank goodness rowdy, rattle-the-rafters rock, interspersed with wistful sentimentality, has a home in the New World.
"On our first time in America [in 1991], our audiences were practically all people with Irish roots, as you would expect," Carton says. "Now, we have all types of Americans at our shows. They tell us they had no idea we were such a rock and roll band."
Carton says he's always enjoyed seeing new audiences' expectations go down the drain. Early in their careers, the Saw Doctors were frequently billed as an Irish folk-rock outfit, and there has long been the feeling that Irish acts are either of the strict traditionalist "diddly-aye" school or serve up the deadly earnestness of U2 and Sinead O'Connor. The Docs are not only influenced by traditional Irish sounds.
"We are Irish," Carton says. "There's no disguising our roots. But we love rock. We play music we listened to growing up and incorporate it in our songs. Ireland is a very musical country. People love to sing. The Irish are always singing, because they're happy or sad or whatever. It's in the blood."
While growing up, Carton listened to plenty of traditional Celtic music. Like almost every Irish family, his had its share of musicians who would gather at the pubs for a nighttime seisun (impromptu jam). It was that upbringing, combined with his own influence from Springsteen and Creedence Clearwater Revival, that shaped Carton's musical destiny.
Oh yes, he won't deny the babe factor.
"Talk to Leo about that," Carton says. "He'll tell you right off he started playing guitar to meet girls."
That explains one of Moran's most endearing songs. "D'ya Wanna Hear My Guitar?" is a tale of young romance told by a fellow who attempts to lure a young lady to his bedroom by telling her she can handle his prized possession -- his polka-dotted Gibson that will be famous, as soon as he learns to play it well enough to start his band.
Despite the liberal use of Irish slang, western Irish locations, and terms like "Tir na nOg" and "Hogan Stand," tunes like "D'ya Wanna Hear My Guitar?" strike a chord with people of all nations. Songs of seduction, unrequited love, old friendships, and sports enthusiasm that are the Saw Doctors' stock in trade transcend nationality.
The Docs have two guest musicians with them on the current tour. Anthony Thistlewaite, formerly of the Waterboys, will play saxophones, and young prodigy Danny Healy will play trumpet.
"Danny's actually a musical genius," Carton says. "Anthony has been with us before. He was on our [second album], All the Way From Tuam, so traveling with us was easy for him. He just stepped into it. I hope he does this time.
"We always like to have a new dimension on our tours. Anthony and Danny give us that new dimension this time."
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