Johnny Morrissey | Bowing Down Home

Johnny Morrissey, 1992

Biography

Johnny Morrissey grew up on a farm that had been in his family’s hands since the last decades of the 19th century. His forbears on both sides came from Ireland. As it happened, it was his mother’s side of the family, the Martins, who were the musical ones. His mother step-danced, one of her sisters played fiddle and was a noted step-dancer, and his maternal grandmother was a great singer.

Morrissey took up the fiddle at age 15, inspired by a musical neighbor, and played for his first set of dancers a few months later. Once he got started, he found that many of the tunes he heard at local dances would stick in memory.

Some of the fiddlers who played at these dances were Frank McCabe, Joe Griffin, Billy Morissey, Clarence MacLean, Danny MacLean, Jimmy MacLean, Pat Bolger, and John Ross. Morrissey remembers in particular that when Angus Leslie MacLean played at the Eldon Hall, you could hear Princess Reel ring out all over town.

Later on, Morrissey also learned tunes from local radio. He picked up Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, for example, from Lem Jay’s annual radio show. He also listened to fiddlers such as Winston Fitzgerald and Buddy MacMaster on radio broadcasts from Cape Breton.

Johnny developed a sweet, lilting style of playing that was well suited to the Quadrilles and Lancers that people enjoyed dancing in southeastern Queens County. He recalls that back in the 1940s, people in his area took turns hosting weekly house parties during the winter. They’s start out playing cards (whist was the game of choice); then someone would bring out a fiddle and off they’d go, dancing till the wee hours.

Tune Selections

Morrissey, Johnny - Girl I Left Behind Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - MacDonald March Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno; Ken Perlman, bjo
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - Mrs. McLeod of Rasay Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - Old Man & the Old Woman, The Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - Over the Briny Ocean Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - Paddy on the Turnpike Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - Southern Waltz Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - Stack of Barley Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - Tennessee Two-Step Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Morrissey, Johnny - Turkey in the Straw Accompanied by: Margaret Ross MacKinnon, pno
Eastern Queens
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Oral Histories

Hearing his neighbors play Took up fiddle at 15 or 16; Morrissey would be en route to his grandfather's house and hear the violin played, ("I'd stand, I'd listen"); he had tunes in his head when he was quite young from jigging around the house; at one time jigging was all the music they had for dances info and transcript
Morrissey, Johnny - Morrissey plays tune from Jay’s show Lem Jay on Island radio: Illustration: "Bonaparte Crossing the Alps" info and transcript
Tunes spring to mind He'd go to a dance, and take particular notice to a tune; perhaps in a weeks' time it would come up and he'd start whistling it; he'd have it in mind before he tried to play it on fiddle info and transcript

Video Clips