WINNIPEG — It has been 20 years since John McDermott took a big gamble, leaving the newspaper business and seeing where his golden voice would take him.
Little did he know then that his voice, and all those famous songs of Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere would take him from coast to coast several times and around the world on a two-decade musical journey that isn’t about to end anytime soon.
His latest tour has him once again crossing the country, and he plays the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium in Brandon tonight and Winnipeg’s Burton Cummings Theatre on Friday night.
The concerts are part of a 20-year retrospective of his singing career, but McDermott joked in an interview that he could also call it the "20 Shades of Grey tour."
Not that travelling city to city and singing is getting old for McDermott.
Far from it.
"I can’t wait to get to the next show. It’s really a pleasure to do what we do," McDermott said in a phone interview earlier this week.
"My own way of seeing things while touring, you realize quickly if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have a job. They’re my employers."
Perhaps it’s his unlikely road to stardom that prevents him from taking performing for granted.
At first he only sang at parties and karaoke events and his first recording was a bit of a lark — a 50th anniversary present for his parents.
He later pitched the CD to friends in the entertainment industry and it landed him a recording contract in 1992. That anniversary present eventually sold 50,000 copies in Canada and led to a tour with the Chieftains.
"I was surprised with how comfortable I felt as a solo artist. It just felt right — the transition was so easy," McDermott said.
He has recorded 24 more albums since, had a stint with the Irish Tenors and became such a popular figure in the New England area that he was asked to sing at the funeral of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.
McDermott has also part of the growing legion of Canadian artists, like Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, who are trying to make a difference in the charitable arena as well as the concert hall.
Funds raised from his CD sales and concerts have gone to veterans charities in the United States and Canada and his philanthropic foundation, McDermott House Canada, is planning on a $3.6-million expansion of the palliative care unit at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
"My father said to give back to Canada — it’s given our family so much opportunity. And then give back to the veteran community," McDermott said.
His father was a Royal Air Force vet from the Second World War who died in 1995, shortly after McDermott’s music career took off.
His father, who along with his wife and 12 children moved to Canada from Scotland when McDermott was a child, always enjoyed his son’s a capella version of "Danny Boy," he says, and together with versions of "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" remain the backbone of his shows all these years later.
"They still have an emotional impact — that’s why they have longevity," McDermott says. "They were written with a purpose and a reason."
» Winnipeg Free Press