A Family Affair: Leahys Luck
MKE March 15, 2007
Brothers Tom and Brian Leahy had a bright idea about 15 years ago: get their kids to join them playing Irish tunes at a gig or two around the Milwaukee area.
"The cute factor was just off the board," Brian Leahy said. "People would come see us not just for the music and the show, but because we made them feel good about family."
The band slowly filtered in non-family members to play during the year after the kids moved away and some got married. But the kitsch factor of Luck is revived every Irish Fest and St. Patrick's Day, as the Leahy children fly in from as far as California and New Hampshire to jam.
"It's very special," Tom Leahy said. "It used to be like parents on patrol, with us always fighting over what we were going to wear and who was playing this or that. And now they're all adults, and it's wonderful."
About the band Leahys Luck plays year round and has recorded four albums. It plays a mix of mostly popular Irish folk music and some original music. What to do on St. Patrick's Day The brothers don't like the "fake" aspects of St. Patrick's Day - the Paddy McShamrocks and the obligation people feel to get trashed. But they enjoy the holiday itself. "Celebrate your Irishness," Tom Leahy said. In a deep Irish accent: "I don't want to be for reinforcing the stereotypes, but get out there and have a drink and a good time."
How Irish is Milwaukee? "On a trip to Ireland," Tom Leahy said, "some people we met asked, 'We heard all the good musicians in the United States are in a place called Milwaukee. Have you heard of it?' We've got a lot going for us here."
Why they play "(We) don't look at this like, maybe one day we'll get on David Letterman. This is frosting on the cake of life. It's very satisfy.
Shepherd Express - City Scenes
By Jessica Steinhoff
March 13, 2003
Leahy’s Luck Weaves Together Generations With Song, a Bit o’ Blarney
Perhaps it's young Caitlin Leahy who sums up the "luck" in Leahy’s Luck the best: "The nice thing about being in an all-family Irish band," she admits, "is that you can never get fired." Not that any of the Leahys Luck crew would want to. Drawing Irish Fest crowds of nearly 10,000 and a steady stream of gigs from here to Dublin, Ohio, this star-quality Gaelic nickelodeon could be a virtual pot o’gold, if its members wanted it that way.
But they don't. Not for now, at least. Started by Brew Town brother-buddies Brian and Tom Leahy in 1991, Leahys Luck has evolved from a guitar and bass guitar duo into a mythic mélange of fiddles, flutes, accordions, bagpipes and even a little fancy footwork. Old-country favorites like "Danny Boy" piggyback on Indigo Girls-Gone-Gaelic and original tunes by Tom himself.
Once Leahy children Sarah (vocals, tin whistle, percussion)' Michelle (fiddle), Caitlin (vocals, flute, percussion), Maura (accordion, vocals), Evan (bodhran, drums) and Colin (bodhran) brought their vocal and instrumental talents to the stage, Leahys Luck found that its appeal-and luck-expanded laterally, across generations.
''I'm just amazed how cross-generational this music is. You get 80-year-oIds who glom onto it and 4-year-olds who know every word," Brian says.
Of course, the band didn't start out with old-timers, punk rockers and anklebiters eager to join in a collective chorus of ''I'll Tell Me Ma." Even the Leahy family has had its generational tiffs, which had to be worked out for the music's all-ages mojo to work its magic.
"Each family member went through their stages of getting proficient on their instruments, then the 'I'm too cool for this' thing, and then realized, 'Hey, I kind of like my uncle and cousins," explains Tom.
But once "Dad" ceased being a two syllable word, the Leahy kids saw how the luck and charm of Irish music could work for them rather than against them in social situations. Specifically, their brand of folk-infused Irish merry-making has proved mysterious enough to keep bullies from heckling the younger Leahys during their teen-aged years.
“You can be in junior high or high school and be in an Irish band and no one can judge you because they really don't know how to," says Tom, adding that growing up performing has done wonders for his kids' self-confidence. "They can get up in front of 5,000 people, no problem. I certainly couldn't have done that as a kid," he says.
These days, being an enigmatic "Irish musician" can even help a teen--or, more shocking, a teen's dad-grab his 15 minutes.
Says Brian: "When we perform in the schools, junior high kids will participate. That's the true test - when you get sixth, seventh and eighth graders rockin' with you." But rockin’ the suburbs' gymnasiums isn't all that's been on the Leahys' docket.
Success and Luck
In response to a deluge of CD and tape requests at Irish Fest, the WAMI award-winning ensemble returned to the studio in 2002 to cut a new recording. Their fifth CD, Family Brew--a tasty stew of traditional tunes such as "Black is the Color" and "Drowsy Maggie," Guinness-tinged covers and Leahys Luck originals-just hit stores.
Collaborating with seasoned local musicians such as one-man band Dave Delgado, the brothers always manage to keep the ensemble going in the absence of their college-bound children. They're also forging new partnerships with up-and-coming Irish performers such as fiddler Brigid O'Sullivan and 14-year-old master bagpiper J.P. Geygan. "The din from JP's applause is louder than from a U2 concert, I swear," says Brian. "He really masters his audience, gives 'em a big grin. But now, now, this doesn't mean that anyone's being replaced, emphasizes Brian. This is the flip side of all-family Irish band job security: "Because no one can be fired, we all view it as a hobby, as a side gig, as frosting on the proverbial cake." With most of the kids-the group's star soloists--about to enter college or jumpstart their careers, Dads Leahy aren't about to stand in the way. "You have to play five nights a week to really get to where the national groups are at, and though we joke about it at home, we can't picture our kids giving up their aspirations and hanging out with their dads in Leahys Luck," says Brian.
Then, out of the blare of "American Idol" from an upstairs room, creeps a wee Leahy, yearning for a snuggle with Dad .. and a glimpse at the media. Don't speak too soon, Brian: You may have found your touring band yet. Lucky you. Brian agrees: "Luck has a hell of a lot to do with how our kids turned out. We feel so lucky, so blessed. The name fits, doesn't it?"
Irish American Post
Milwaukee's own Leahys Luck has produced its third album, Tree Rings (1998), proving the durability of this remarkable young family. Comprised of two Leahy brothers, Brian and Thomas, accompanied by their five talented children, Michelle, Sarah, Caitlin, Maura and Evan, Leahys Luck sings all the popular Irish ballads in a clean and straightforward style, devoid of any gimmicks and affectation.
Much of their material is reminiscent of the Clancy Brothers, but the Leahys are not mere imitators. They have developed their own distinct style - and that's what makes them a listening pleasure.
The group's first album, Leahys Luck, produced in 1995, includes such favorites as "The Moonshiner," "The Fields of Athenry," "The Orange and the Green," and "Will Ye Go, Lassie Go." The following year came Leahys Luck, 2nd Time Around, a nice blend of popular ballads like "Goodbye Mrs. Durkin" and Brennan on the Moor" with rarer pieces such as Peter Jones' "Kilkelly" and Andy Stewart's "The Fisherman's Song." Their latest, Tree Rings, includes Pete St. John's "The Ferryman," and Tommy Sands' "There Were Roses," (beautifully sung by one of the girls) as well as traditional pieces like "Toss the Feathers," "Irish Rover," "Tam Lin," and "A Nation Once Again."
AMG - All Music Guide
Dave Sleger 1999
This is the third and most advanced effort by the Milwaukee-based family group Leahys Luck. On this recording they tackle the popular songs "Irish Rover" and Tommy Sands' "There Were Roses" sung delicately by Sarah Leahy but also lesser-known traditional pieces like "Donald McGillavery" and "Johnny's Gone for a Soldier" delivered sweetly by Maura Leahy. "The Ferryman," "Whatever You Say," and "A Nation Once Again" are performed in rousing Wolfe Tones' vocal style. Instrumentally Leahys Luck has evolved since their first two recordings as evidenced on selections like "Toss the Feathers" and "Tam Lin," which demonstrate the improved abilities of fiddler Michelle Leahy and accordion player Maura Leahy. In an unexpected but pleasant turn, Leahys Luck offers a meticulous rendering of It's a Beautiful Day's "White Bird" recapturing David LaFlamme's violin and vocal part with incredible accuracy. ~ Dave Sleger
Leahys Luck reaches beyond the family
By Dave Tianen of the Journal Sentinel staff
December 25, 1998
Can Leahys Luck survive higher education?
Back in 1991, brothers Tom and Brian Leahy decided to merge their families in a traditional Irish band.
Tom sang and played the bass, his daughter, Maura played the accordion and his son, Evan played the bodhran, a distinctive Irish drum. Brian played acoustic guitar and did the bulk of the singing. His daughters Michelle, Sarah and Caitlin, handled violin, flute and tin whistle.
So far, Leahys Luck has had a distinct run of good fortune. The kids have matured musically and the group has recorded three albums in four years.
The first two have made money and the third, which was just released, is being carried by Barnes & Noble. They've also drawn high-profile gigs at Milwaukee Irish Fest and Erin Feis in the Quad Cities and toured as far away as Marquette, Mich. And they've found a musical home of sorts at the Milwaukee Ale House.
These days, however, several of the younger Leahys are in college and it's getting harder to get everybody together for a gig. As a result the group has tapped other young talent. For a recent gig at the Irish Cultural Center, Brigid O'Sullivan sat in on fiddle and Asher Gray helped out on tin whistle.
At the moment, Brian admits that he and Tom are uncertain whether they want to bring in outside help and make Leahys Luck as formidable as possible, or just use it as a forum to help develop young talent. Although Brian sang with the Milwaukee Opera Company and Tom is a cantor at St. John Vianney parish in Brookfield, neither brother is a full-time musician. Brian is in sales and has a mobile deejay business, while Tom is a driver for Federal Express.
Tom cites Luka Bloom as an inspiration. The group's new CD, "Tree Rings," blends traditional material such as "Johnny's Gone For a Soldier" with surprises such as a Celtic arrangement of "White Bird." Other outstanding tracks include "Valley of Strathmore" and an original song by Tom called "Umbrella."
Fans interested in "Tree Rings" or the group's first two albums can check out their Web site at www.leahysluck.com/content/releases.html