The Chieftains are masters at finding that common thread in cultures and weaving it into a musical project that sounds both unique and comfortingly familiar.
The catalog of people Moloney has worked with is extensive: Van Morrison, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, and Ry Cooder – the list goes on. “I could write a book because there’s endless stories of our life,” Moloney laughed.
One memory Moloney shared was of the Chieftains’ first performance at the Irish Arts Center in New York and looking out into the audience to see John Lennon, Yoko at his side, listening to them play. Eight years later, while he was recording with Stevie Wonder in London, Moloney heard the news that Lennon had been shot.
Another story Moloney told was of the night that the Rolling Stones filed into the studio in Dublin to record “Rocky Road to Dublin.” “They brought their entourage. And one o’clock in the morning the place was just swinging. I had nothing on tape, so I said to the lads, ‘Do you mind if I press the button?’ So we got the ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ with a little bit of ‘Satisfaction’ thrown in for good measure. There was a BBC documentary last year with Keith Richards on it. And he’s saying of us, ‘These guys, they’re a year older than we are and they play this medieval music. I think it’s 18th-century stuff. They asked me to do ‘Satisfaction’ and I thought, it won’t work!’ But it did and of course we do it in concert every night. It’s one of our favorite pieces.”
More recently, the Chieftains were asked by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock to lend a hand to his version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A-changin’.” Due out later this year, the track includes a “little flavor of traditional Irish music” along with some African musicians and several other collaborations.
The energy and the authenticity of the music are what Moloney strives for. “I don’t usually go straight out for someone to record something for the sake of who they are,” he said. “I always work towards a CD that is almost like a live concert so that anything we play can be performed live on stage.”
With San Patricio he has done just that. The Chieftains performed the material in Dublin in January as well as in Glasgow, and, excited by the success of their first shows, they will be unleashing this Mexican-Irish fusion of music in Mexico and the States in the coming months.