The Greatest C#/D Accordion Players of All Time
Despite the popularity of B/C tuning within the modern world of traditional Irish music, the C#/D press and draw system was actually around first!
This traditional style of Irish button accordion playing is based on the simple 10 key one row melodeon system. So it makes sense, due to the popularity of the Irish melodeon, that the C#/D accordion would follow in its footsteps.
Like the B/C system, there has been no shortage of brilliant press and draw accordion players over the years. But who are the C#/D players you should know about?
As I’ve already written about three legends of the B/C button accordion, I thought it would only be fitting to share another post with you about my three favourite players of the C#/D button accordion.
So keep reading and I’ll introduce you to three masters of this old style of traditional Irish button accordion playing, whose iconic playing has influenced generations of musicians and will continue to do so for many years to come.
The word everyone used to describe Joe Cooley was ‘magical’.
– Tony MacMahon
A native of Co. Galway in the West of Ireland, Joe Cooley was born in 1924. Born into a musical family, both of Joe’s parents and most of his older brothers were musicians.
Naturally, Joe followed in their footsteps and began learning the accordion at the age of ten, taught by his mother.
Little did the Cooley family know however that Joe would go on to become one of the most influential Irish button accordion players to ever grace the world of Traditional Irish Music.
As you can imagine, the Cooley household was a popular spot to hold a dance and there was music being played almost every evening.
This early immersion in the tradition cemented Joe’s iconic East Galway playing style which would still be evident years later, even after many years spent across the pond in the US.
Joe was an early member of the famous Tulla Céilí Band, alongside his brother Séamus on flute. He played with them for their first victory at Féile Luimní in 1946 and their debut performance for Raidio Éireann in 1948.
Before emigrating to the US in 1953, Joe met and played with some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians, including legendary Irish button accordion players Sonny Brogan (the grandfather of Irish button accordion playing himself) and Paddy O’Brien.
Joe moved to New York, followed by Boston and Chicago before finally settling in San Francisco where the local branch of Comhaltas is named in his honour.
In the US Joe was a popular teacher who inspired generations of musicians. Many prominent American musicians emerged with a pronounced East Galway playing style thanks to his influence.
In addition to his role as a beloved teacher, Joe was revered as a charismatic character whose passionate and joyful playing delighted all who heard it.
While his playing was deceptively simple and straightforward, Joe’s iconic style focused on ‘the sunshine between the notes.’
Dancers were particularly drawn to his music for its lively, rhythmic and steady flow – a skill no doubt developed at those childhood house dances back in Co. Galway.
Gone Too Soon
Sadly Joe Cooley died an untimely death in 1973 at the age of just 49. He returned to his beloved homeland of Ireland in 1972 due to deteriorating health.
Such was his popularity that, in the year before his death, his fans would travel from all over the country to hear him perform. It wasn’t just in Ireland that he gained such popularity however. Here’s one of my favourite snippets about Joe:
Cooley appealed to a wide cross-section of music enthusiasts… His relaxed and uncluttered personality had enormous appeal to freedom-seeking hippies who formed part of California’s cultural mosaic in the late 1960s.
– GÓH/Fintan Vallely
To this day, Joe is rightly revered as one of the most accomplished Irish button accordion players to have ever picked up the box.
Joe played a beautiful C#/D Paolo Soprani button accordion, but he also played a D/D# instrument. Both instruments make use of the older ‘press and draw’ style.
It’s only fitting that Joe’s memory should be carried on in this way.
Born in 1945, Cork native Jackie Daly is one of Ireland’s most prominent proponents of the Sliabh Luachra style of Traditional Irish Music.
His father was a melodeon player and his mother was a singer. Jackie began his musical journey at the age of seven, learning to play the harmonica and the tin whistle, followed by the melodeon.
Despite being an exemplar of the C#/D press and draw accordion style, in 1974 Jackie won the All Ireland Fleadh playing a B/C instrument!
C#/D accordions weren’t yet sanctioned by the governing body of Comhaltas for competition playing at the time, forcing Jackie to compete on a B/C box. He succeeded nonetheless and after claiming the title, he promptly returned to his preferred C#/D.
In 1977, Jackie recorded a duet with fiddle player Séamus Creagh – Jackie Daly agus Séamus Creagh. This album went on to become one of the most influential recordings in the world of Traditional Irish music.
Much of the popularity of the Sliabh Luachra style outside of its geographic area is owed to this iconic duet:
The Daley Influence
Since the mid-1970s, Jackie has been a hugely influential figure in Traditional Irish Music. He is widely credited with having revamped the accordion’s image and establishing it as an ‘acceptable’ instrument within the tradition – one worthy of being included in modern music groups rather than just the old traditional céilí bands.
Jackie was also largely responsible for the move away from the musette tuning (or wet tuning) of the 1950s and ’60s, towards a brighter, sweeter sound with less tremolo (swing or dry tuning).
Not only that, but propelled by his early experiences as a C#/D player, he continues to champion the press and draw stye of playing and has inspired a significant upswing in the popularity of the C#/D accordion.
The legacy of Joe Cooley and Jackie Daly is far reaching and has served a vitally important role in the preservation of traditional Irish button accordion playing.
I would argue however that it’s Máirtín O’Connor however who is responsible for dragging the press and draw style of Irish accordion playing through the late 20th century and into the 21st.
Galway virtuoso Máirtín O’Connor’s accordion playing and range of compositions have been dazzling audiences for over 30 years.
– Irish Examiner
Born in Co. Galway in 1945, Máirtín O’Connor, like his predecessors, was also a member of a musical family. He was encouraged musically by his grandparents who were both melodeon players and he began learning music at the age of nine. Are you noticing any similarities yet?
A planned a career in electronics fell by the wayside in the 1970s when Máirtín was invited by the great singer songwriter Thom Moore to join his band Midnight Well. And so, a legendary music career began.
Since then Máirtín has performed, toured and recorded with the likes of The Boys of the Lough, De Dannan (he took over the reigns from Jackie Daly himself) and Skylark.
He recorded his debut solo album The Connachtman’s Rambles in 1978 to major critical success, but it was his 1990 album, Perpetual Motion, that really shook things up as he began to explore exciting new music from outside the world of Traditional Irish Music:
While Joe Cooley and Jackie Daley were the epitome of tradition, Máirtín O’Connor has continued to push boundaries with his playing.
As I always say though, this musical fusion can only be achieved successfully when one is fully immersed in the tradition and understand its nuances, as Máirtín truly does.
Despite his eclectic playing style and playful sense of musical adventure, Máirtín is probably best known worldwide for his role in Riverdance. He was the first accordion player with the Riverdance orchestra in 1995 and also featured in Bill Whelan’s ‘Seville Suite‘.
Another fun claim to fame is that Máirtín features on the soundtrack to Ireland’s favourite Irish language soap opera, Ros na Rún (Woodland of the Secrets)!
Máirtín continues to go from strength to strength, bringing Irish button accordion playing to daring new heights. In 2015 he was named Traditional Musician of the Year at the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Awards.
He continues to tour extensively and currently performs as part of a daring and exciting trio with Irish fiddle virtuoso Zoe Conway and the legendary Donal Lunny:
Join This Iconic Accordion Tradition
If you’re feeling inspired and want to follow in the footsteps of these legendary players, then why not take a look at my range of Irish button accordions?
If your heart is set on learning this iconic press and draw style of playing, then the McNeela C#/D Button Accordion is just the instrument for you.
This highly responsive lightweight accordion is carefully crafted with ease of play in mind, allowing you play with confidence, right from your very first note.
It’s perfect for playing slides and polkas (or any other lively Irish dance tune) with a distinctive, punchy rhythm. You’ll be a master of the press and draw style in no time.
Go n-éirí leat!