Whatever Happened to Mike Ireland & Holler?

For every musician who hits it big, there are many more who release an album or two and disappear for various reasons. We have written about some of those artists who have created some great music and then disappeared from center stage, such as Sinéad Lohan (leaving us for a quieter life) and Teddy Morgan (leaving us for Kevin Costner). Another one of these missing artists who we love and miss is Mike Ireland & Holler, who released two excellent alt-country albums around the turn of the century that were born out of Ireland’s personal turmoil. And then, Ireland disappeared.

Learning How to Live

Ireland, a tall bald man with long sideburns who grew up in Kansas City, did not look like the typical country musician. But the albums he created with his band Holler — Learning How to Live (1998) and Try Again (2002) — are built around a beautiful aching tenor twang that also led to appearances on the Grand Ole Opry as well as opening for Buck Owens.

Below, Ireland performs the title track from Learning How to Live on Signal to Noise. He is accompanied by the members of his band Holler — Mike Lemon, Paul Lemon, and Dan Mesh. Check it out.

Critics loved the album.  In describing this 1998 album, Allmusic noted that “few artists cut as deeply with raw, honest desperation,” calling Learning to Live “one of the finest (and certainly most underappreciated) country albums of the decade.”  A September 1998 Los Angeles Times review of a live show before “barely a dozen customers” compared him to Gram Parsons.

Unfortunately, though, Learning to Live did not sell well for the Sub Pop label.  It sold only around 2,500 copies in the first four years, while Ireland played shows to small audiences (even though he also got to play the Grand Ole Opry). But it was an unfair result for an album wherein the singer-songwriter poured so much of his soul. To understand how Learning How to Live came about, one must go back several years.

Holler’s Beginnings and Mike Ireland’s Heartbreak

Long before Mike Ireland put together his band Holler, he played music while in college in Columbia, Missouri.  There, he teamed up with singer-songwriter Rich Smith and formed a band called And How.

Several years later, the two reunited to form a band called The Starkweathers. In the early 1990s, The Starkweathers were starting to garner some success with a 1994 EP release. The group’s country-punk sound featured Ireland’s harmonies with lead singer Smith. Below is the band’s song, “Burn the Flag.”

The Starkweathers had formed out of an impromptu performance of friends at Ireland’s wedding. But his relationship with his wife would ultimately lead to the destruction of the band too.

Just as the band members were starting to put more time into their music and after Ireland quit his day job teaching English composition, in October 1995 Ireland found out that his wife was having an affair with his band partner Smith.

After the discover of the affair, the band broke up.  Rich Smith left the music business for awhile, working in a music store, before he would later try to start a new band, The Broadsides.

So, Ireland not only lost his wife, he lost his band and his friend. As Ireland later explained, “So suddenly I was without a wife or a house or a band or a job or a best friend. And it was pretty devastating.”

Creating Music Out of Pain

He thought his life in music was ending. But Ireland poured the pain of his personal life into writing new songs. His life, which now sounded like an old country song, led him to find a connection to a more traditional country sound, incorporating honky-tonk and Billy Sherrill-like countrypolitan styles. The result was his 1998 debut solo album, Learning to Live, which features ten original compositions and two covers.

The album leads off with a song, “House of Secrets,” a song about a man burning down a house holding his wife and her lover. It is an angry song that only could have been written by a man who genuinely felt betrayed.

Other highlights on the album included a cover of the murder ballad “Banks of the Ohio.” Ireland also recorded a song Chimesfreedom ranked among the most depressing Christmas songs ever, “Christmas Past.”

Try Again

As noted above, Learning to Live did not sell well. But in 2002, he released a second album with Holler, Try Again. The album features some bigger arrangements on songs like the honky-tonk title track, “Try Again.”

Ireland’s sophomore album is still tempered with reality.  One of the highlights is Ireland’s excellent cover of Charlie Rich’s “Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs,” which was written by Rich’s wife Margaret Ann Rich.

But Ireland was much happier around the time of this album. So, many of the songs show some rays of hope.  “I’d Like To” is one of the songs on the album also featured in a bonus disk version.

Disappearance From the Music Industry

As of today, that seems to be it for Mike Ireland & Holler. Many who have heard Ireland’s music find a deep connection to it.  At least one writer has called Ireland’s second album a “masterpiece,” while another called his first album “timeless.” But unfortunately, not enough people have heard his music.

It is unclear what Mike Ireland has been doing since his last album came out in 2002.  The most recent mention of him seems to be of a December 2005 Mike Ireland and Holler show at Mike’s Tavern in Ireland’s hometown Kansas City.

Yet, there seems to be no news on the Internet about him in more than a decade.  Another musician who played drums with Holler, Matt Brahl, went on to play with a number of bands, including The Hardship Letters, Potter’s Field, The Naughty Pines, and The Liz Finity Affair.  Other band members included Michael Lemon, Paul Lemon, and Dan Mesh (who went on to play with Howard Iceberg and the Titanics).

A rare clue to Ireland’s whereabouts is that someone commented on a YoutTube video, claiming that Ireland is semi-retired.  But it is unclear how that person got the information.

I wonder if Mike Ireland’s exit from the music industry might partly be related to the fact that his music career was so intimately connected to a sad time in his life. I can imagine that playing his songs of heartbreak brings back painful memories.  Additionally, every interview with him always included some discussion of his wife’s affair.

Perhaps Ireland no longer wanted to bear that wound so publicly. Other artists have created great works resulting from pain. But, for example, when Frank Sinatra documented his relationship with Ava Gardner in In the Wee Small Hours, that album became just one part of a vast catalog. For Ireland, both of his albums remain connected to his heartbreak and his recovery.

Hopefully, Ireland is somewhere still singing and writing songs. I hope we will hear more from him, but I also hope he is happy.

Even if the two albums are all we will ever hear from Mike Ireland & Holler, I’ll cherish those albums. Maybe his disappearance from the stage is him just teaching us again that “Some Things You Lose.” Ah, but sometimes the journey is worth the pain of our losses.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Paul Thorn Has a Good Day Every Now and Then (Missed Music)

    Anytime you have a bad day, put on this excellent song by Paul Thorn, “I Have a Good Day (Every Now and Then).” It is one of those songs that by the time it breaks into the chorus, you think you have heard the song all your life. I could listen to this song all day.

    Before starting a music career, the Wisconsin-born Thorn was briefly a professional boxer and fought Roberto Durán. So he knows what it is like to take a punch and get back up again. He also knows how to sing a great song. “I Have a Good Day” appears on Thorn’s CD, So Far So Good LIVE (2006). You can check out some of the mp3s from the album, including “I Have a Good Day” on Thorn’s website here.

    Check out the latest video by the Paul Thorn Band of “What the Hell is Goin’ On?” — a song written by Elvin Bisop from Thorn’s new album of the same name here. You may get a free download of the song through Thorn’s website or through the link below. For a review of the new CD, check out this article from No Depression.
    Thanks to Majel for introducing me to Thorn’s music.

    What is your favorite Paul Thorn song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Kevin Costner Stole One of My Favorite Singer-Songwriters (Missed Music)

    Several years ago, I saw a performer named Teddy Morgan perform to a small bar crowd in Manhattan. Having already discovered Morgan’s music through two friends, I was disappointed there was not a larger crowd for someone who made such great music.

    But it is a tough business.  The ups and downs of the music world eventually probably led Morgan to shift his focus from his talented work as the front-man of a band to being a backing performer for actor-singer Kevin Costner in his band Kevin Costner & Modern West.

    You have to do what you have to do to survive.  And the change allowed Morgan to make a living and play before much larger crowds than he was seeing out on his own. But I miss the music he might have made if he had continued on his prior path.

    Teddy Morgan’s Early Career

    Morgan grew up as a talented guitarist in Minneapolis recording his first album, Ridin’ in Style (1994), with a focus on blues. Allmusic lists an album from 1995 called Teddy Morgan & the Sevilles, but I have not been able to find it.

    Although Morgan’s albums featured his singing, on other projects he often loaned his guitar skills to make other singers look good too.  For example, he played guitar in a performance from 1994 backing up singer Candye Kane on the blues.

    Below is another early Morgan performance where Morgan sings lead on a song when he was still focused on the blues. Here, he performs “Dear Ted Letter” with the Sevilles (Eric Mathew (bass), Esten Cooke (drums)) in July 1994 at the 19th Anniversary of Antone’s in Austin, Texas. July 12, 1994.

    For me, though, Morgan’s best work so far came in his next four albums. Although the blues continued to color his work, these next albums blended his blues influences into albums that tended more toward roots-rock. Bob Dylan influenced Morgan’s music too, as Morgan occasionally covered some Dylan songs.

    Louisiana Rain & Lost Love & Highways

    His style shift reflected a geographic move after Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds heard the young Morgan in a bar and convinced him to move to Austin. Morgan’s next albums — Louisiana Rain (1996) and Lost Love & Highways (1999) — showed the influences of rock and roll as well as country music on his blues style.

    Below is “Baby Don’t Leave Me” from Louisiana Rain (a song that at least one band, The Jelly Blues, has covered).

    Lost Love & Highways included a sharp band called the Pistolas.  NPR and Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker selected Lost Love & Highways as one of the best albums of the year. But apparently the sales were not there.

    Below is the title song from Lost Love & Highways, showing the country influence:

    Morgan, Teddy – Lost love and highways

    Crashing Down & Freight

    In 2000, Morgan made another geographic shift, moving to Arizona. Morgan then released two more albums on small or independent labels: Crashing Down (2003) and Freight (2003).

    I saw Morgan perform live soon after the release of Freight, which may be his best album. But by that time, he was reduced to trying to sell the CD out of a cardboard box on breaks during his performances. I bought two copies from him.

    One of my favorite Morgan originals is the song, “Along the Way,” which is a great combination of blues and rock with a little twang.

    Teddy Morgan – Along the Way (Bonus Live) from Freight

    Yet, it was clear that after four albums, Morgan was far from being supported by a big label.

    Move to Nashville & Joining Kevin Costner

    It appears with a relatively disappointing solo career, Morgan used his talents in other ways. He moved to Nashville, and he played on CDs for other performers.  He also worked as a producer and used his other vast talents to stay in the music business.

    And at some point, because of Morgan’s talents and based upon the recommendation of John Coinman, Kevin Costner asked Morgan to join his band Modern West.

    Teddy Morgan still maintained his own website for awhile after joining Modern West.  But it is focused on promoting his work with other artists like Alternate Routes and Tim Warren as opposed to promoting his own solo music.  Morgan also has performed with The Alternate Routes in addition to his gigs with Modern West.  [Nov. 2017 Update:  Morgan apparently abandoned his website and the link now hosts a company hawking diet supplements.]

    Modern West

    Morgan continues to do great work with Kevin Costner & Modern West as well as work behind-the-scenes making other musicians sound better. In 2012, Modern West found some success with an album inspired by Costner’s excellent miniseries, Hatfields and McCoys.  The album, Famous For Killing Each Other: Music From and Inspired by Hatfields & McCoys, climbed to No. 14 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.

    More recently, Morgan played guitar on and produced “Love Shine” for Kevin Costner and Modern West. The band released the video in June 2017.

    I understand that, like all of us, Morgan has to make a living.  Unlike many others, he is fortunate to be using his talents in something he loves. And I am thankful for the music Teddy Morgan has made. I am a fan of Kevin Costner’s movies and do not begrudge him pursuing other artistic endeavors either.  Modern West consists of talented musicians.

    But I still wish Costner would occasionally let Morgan play “Along the Way” on stage.  And I wish Morgan were making more music on his own.

    By himself, though, Morgan probably never had a crowd anywhere near as big as this one with Kevin Costner singing Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man.” When you watch the video, Morgan is on the far right side of the screen.

    Teddy, I miss you.

    Who is your favorite side-person in a famous band? Leave your two cents in the comments.  November 2016 Update:  Apparently, Teddy Morgan no longer maintains a website for his own music.

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    The Vespers and “The Fourth Wall” (Missed Music)

    If you like banjo and some nice harmonies, you should check out The Vespers if you have not done so already. The Nashville Americana/folk quartet is made up of sisters Callie Cryar and Phoebe Cryar and brothers Bruno Jones and Taylor Jones. Below is their video for the song “Lawdy.”

    The song appears on the band’s second album, The Fourth Wall, which was released in 2012. The Vespers formed in 2009 and have attracted some attention with their two albums, both of which were released independently. If you would like more of a sample from the Cryar sisters and the Jones brothers, you may hear the entire album of The Fourth Wall below by pressing the play button. [2015 Update: The option to play the whole album is no longer available.]

    The Vespers are giving away a free download of a track off the album using the “Free Download” button. Or you can go to their Noisetrade website to get a download of the album for whatever donation you want to give to help support their music. For more information about the band, check out the bios of the members and an article in the Huffington Post.

    What is your favorite track on “The Fourth Wall”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Getting High on My Mortality: Sinéad Lohan

    I have so many songs tucked away on my iPod, sometimes while I listen to the songs shuffle in the background as I do my work, I hear a song mixed among the old friends that I don’t remember or one I did not connect to earlier and I have a new discovery. Today, I found a song by an artist who chooses to no longer make music. Today’s new discovery is Sinéad Lohan’s “Whatever It Takes.”

    The song came up on my iPod as part of a collection of acoustic songs from various artists. But here is the video for the original version, which is from Lohan’s No Mermaid (1998) album. I love the odd little dancing marionnette that you see around the 1:08 mark.

    Lohan is from Cork, Ireland, and in the 1990s was a rising star on both sides of the ocean. After her 1995 debut album, Who Do You Think I Am?, did well in Ireland, she made her second album, No Mermaid — which contains “Whatever It Takes” — in New Orleans. The title track of No Mermaid was used in the film Message in A Bottle, and Joan Baez covered it. Another creative person put Lohan’s No Mermaid song to scenes from The Little Mermaid even though the song was not used in that film:

    Lohan also created an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s “To Ramona.”

    At one point, Lohan planned a third album in the new century, but after she had her second child in 2001, she decided to devote herself full time to motherhood. She no longer even has a website devoted to her music. Although it is a loss to the music world that Lohan no longer records, we cannot complain that Lohan chose family over creating more music, as we know from another Lohan and another Sinead how fame can un-ground a person. Perhaps the reason the song “Whatever It Takes” resonates so much is its honesty, where Lohan is perhaps telling us what type of life she would like and that she will do what she needs to be fulfilled without worrying about legacy or fans.

    Whatever it takes you to believe it,
    That’s all right with me;
    Take this morning in my kitchen,
    Or whatever that helps you to believe;
    You will find me down by the river,
    Getting high on my mortality;
    I’ll be holding hands with nameless beauty,
    Or whoever wants to stand next to me.

    Wikipedia reports that Lohan in 2004 began working on a new album that has yet to be released. Whether or not the we get to hear the CD, I hope Sinéad Lohan is somewhere singing for her children, high on mortality holding hands with nameless beauty. Thanks for the music.

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