Will O’Connor

The complete interview

James Joyce in his literary masterpiece, Ulysses, wrote “a good puzzle would be [to] cross Dublin without passing a pub.” I found that to quite possibly be true, without having a drink at each one I passed. Another corollary Joyce might have made would be a good puzzle to pass through the heart of Dublin and not hear a street musician. The Irish are so musical because, I believe, they are so friendly. They don’t want you to say hello, they are wired with a need to know something about you and why you’ve come to their green isle. They are not nosy—they are genuinely interested.

I had no real set itinerary when I spent two weeks in Ireland but I had decided to sample as much music as possible. Dublin was filled with music because where there’s a pub, there’s usually music.  Although you could find street music practically anywhere in Dublin, the Washington Square or Greenwich Village of Dublin is Temple Bar, a section just across the Liffey River and a cobblestone’s throw from Dublin Castle.

After a few days in Dublin, my wife and I traveled south to Waterford and by luck we found ourselves in the small seaside village of Ardmore. The proprietor, Aidan Quirke, runs a small hotel with a classic, Irish pub room. That evening, I spoke over the bar with Aidan for nearly an hour before the locals drifted in, the Round Tower hotel being the local pub that dished the craic in Ardmore.

When the discussion turned to music and Aidan already knew I was from New Jersey, discussions of Bruce and the Shore followed. When I told him my office had just moved a few months earlier from lower Manhattan to Hoboken, the name of Will O’Connor came up. Aidan then explained their annual festival in July celebrating the arrival of St. Declan and how Will came every year to play. Bruce and Will were tied together because on the night Bruce played Kilkenny, Will played Aidan’s pub.

The Wrecking Ball tour included four Irish cities in July, 2013: Limerick (7/16), Cork (7/18), Belfast (7/20), and two nights in Kilkenny at Nowland Park (7/28-29). In between, on the 23rd he played Cardiff, Wales and on the 24th he played Leeds, England. Kilkenny was the European tour finale and the band returned home until they left the second week in September for South America. All four Irish concerts were sold out, as was the concert in Leeds. The total of the four Irish venues (five sold out nights) was 147,922.

I made it a point when I returned home from my Ireland trip to look up Will and get the details of the wild story of how Will came to play in Ireland and how he became the area’s adopted son.

Being a performer, Will has a very different angle on Bruce and the music of The Boss that Will covers. We finally coordinated schedules and over dinner, Will gave me insight into what performing Bruce’s music is like. He set the scene in Ardmore the night Bruce was playing about an hour and a half away in Kilkenny.

Will: When I first moved to Hoboken in 1997 I met a number of people at a bar called Moran’s, an Irish bar in central Hoboken…and met musicians who played there. I had already been playing guitar since I was a teenager. He encouraged me to get up and perform every once in a while. And I eventually got acclimated to that and I just got up and started playing solo like he did at first. I did that for about a year playing in a couple of bars, at at the time I was working at a training company, so I was training people from 8 to 4 at Excel and WORD and then gigging like three or four nights a week. It was really a lot of fun.

GM: Did you start out with Irish or did you morph into it?

Will: When I started playing the guitar in high school (my Dad’s Irish. My dad brought me up listening to the Clancy Brothers and he was big into the folk revival of the 60’s. The neighbors were also an Irish family and we had a very close friendship with them and often on Sundays I the summer we’d wind up on their front porch with their son who is older than me by about 7 years but played other Irish instruments and we’d get together and play a lot. A lot of my early guitar playing revolved around playing Irish folk music.

Then I travelled as an exchange student to Germany. I got a government scholarship and lived with a family for a year while I was there it was where I really came into my own singing. I ended up going over there with a couple of song books which was the bulk of most of my luggage

GM:  Like a couple pair of underwear, two pairs of jeans and 19 songbooks.

Will: Greatest folks songs of the 1960s volumes one and two. And I just worked my way through that. I was very much into what was then called “classic rock.”  My friends at school were very into the fact that Guns ’n Roses had a new album out I was like “have you heard of Smokey Robinson.” I started playing out solo and I played for about a year before I had the idea that I was really getting fed up with work, teaching at that company was really wearing me down. I had the idea that it would be neat to go to a new place having been to German as an exchange student having cultural exchanges like that … I’d never been to Ireland and I wanted to do it. And what brought it about, I was playing a gig at Houlihans in Ramsey [New Jersey] It was I sometimes call a “wallpaper performance” where you are essentially atmosphere for the bar, you are wallpaper.

GM: No one is listening. [laughs]

Will: We have that sometimes everywhere we go [laughs] It’s part of being a bar musician we don’t have a following or regulars who come back to see us. So it was a real wallpaper night and after each tune over in the corner I heard this [makes enthusiastic clapping sounds] So on the break I wander over to the bar and this guy comes over and claps his hand on my shoulder and in the thickest Irish accent say “Oh it’s great whatchyer doin’ over there. I love it. I love it” and he introduces me to his family and we have a really hard time communicating but eventually, before you know it, we’re having a blast. So I get up and play again and they’re super-psyched so the nights goes on and this guy says to me “this is crazy what you’re doing here, you need to come over to my village, I have a friend there who has a pub and I have a couple of other friends who have pubs and we can get you set up.”

GM:   Why was he here?

Will: He was in town for a wedding—his sister lives in Ramsey—her daughter was getting married and he and a couple family members were there

GM:  So that’s how you got to Ardmore?

Will: So this guy apparently makes this presentation to every musician he meets. [laughing] I was the first and only one to take him up on it.

GM:  That’s good; so you got lucky.

Will: So that’s how I met Michael Hennessey. He’s part of the Hennessy family of Ardmore…there are 12 brothers and sisters. Almost all of the brothers live in Ardmore and many of the sisters have moved away but every summer they all kindda converge back for the festival. I wrote down his name, the name of the town and his phone number.

Will OC-small inset

Will (center) playing in Hoboken

This was like September or November and he said if you’re thinking of coming over next summer don’t call me until March. There’s no point because all the bookings aren’t made until then. So weeks go by and it keeps popping into my head that this would be a really good idea. My friends are like “you should do it.” So I did the math and there was no way I could afford it for like a week or do any touring or anything like that so I called him up in March and I said “here’s a crazy idea” what if I came to Ardmore for five weeks would I be able to get enough gigs in five weeks. How small is this village? Can I get enough gigs to pay for B & B? And Michael says “we’ll work it out.”  Which sounds great but can get really scary when it comes down to it but the Irish have this amazing ability to pull stuff off like this. He said he’d call around, scare up a place to stay.

GM:  So you’ll be hitting this a about their high season?

Will: He said if you’re going to come then the window is mid-July to August. That’s when everything happens.

GM: So that’s a positive thing because you’d be there when there are crowds.

Will: Normally it’s [Ardmore] like 500 people year around.

GM:  And that’s counting sheep, right?

Will: They get an extra 1,200 people at that point in the summertime and that fills up the bars and the bars are trying to bring in people.

GM: So that’s how you got to Ardmore.

Will: Then I talked to my friend at Brian’s that I was trying to save my money up to go to Ireland. So the plan was since I had people in Germany who I knew and trusted that I was going to end the trip there. Stay five weeks in Ireland, then buy the ticket to Germany. I didn’t buy the ticket [from Dublin] to Germany because I was nervous. I had never been to this place [Ardmore]. I only talked to total strangers on the phone.

GM:  It is a leap of faith.

Will: I booked a flight to Ireland and a flight home from Germany. Let’s see what happens. My parachute move was if Ireland doesn’t pay off and I couldn’t get gigs which it turns out I really didn’t have any gigs until I turned up there. The Irish don’t like doing business over the phone. They like to meet people in person. It’s kind of a cultural thing where they don’t want to talk business right away. They want to help you out and it’s not being cruel. And I had this story where I was taking leave from my office and all the vacation I was getting at the time was two weeks and wasn’t earning much so everything was going straight to the landlord. Then the plan was to scare up enough money before I left. It gets to the point where the bar at Moran’s hires me for five days which is how it got to where I was playing Moran’s every Friday night for seven years. That was an awesome gig but eventually I outgrew it and I got a little too old and wanting to stay sober too much. [laughs]. So I had all these gigs and was pulling all this money together to pay for the flight and to cover expenses I managed to just squeak it through. I contacted Michael again and it was hard trying to find bed and breakfasts and the problem was that when you stay at a B & B you stay for one night. I was trying to stay for five weeks. And I also needed a discounted rate and for the people to trust me that I was earning money in their village at the pubs they already know, so I kindda hoped they’d see where this was going. So it wasn’t working out at first, I was helping working around the house so then Michael contacted me…like Michael is one of my closest friends in Ireland, and he found me a B & B. So now I have a B & B I have a couple of gigs for the five weeks. I did have a ticket so if it didn’t work out, I could go to Germany and sleep on a couch, ride out my summer there and I was playing a lot here in the states.

GM: So what was it like when you first got over there?

Will: What ends up happening is I get over to Ireland, it’s my first day, with no money—I spent it riding the bus into Dublin City to try to get to the train and I spent a little bit on breakfast and then it was getting around lunch and I didn’t have anything so I opened my guitar case and started playing.

GM:  Where was that? I know Dublin to an extent so I’m curious. Remember where?

Will: The square in Temple Bar.

GM:  Oh right, Temple Bar would be the place. We saw all kinds of musicians there in the square. What a great place—you just walk in there. In fact, when I was there we were meeting my son who flew in to join us and that’s where we met. There was this band playing and I listened closely and I thought “my God, they’re playing Led Zeppelin.”

Will: That’s awesome [laughs]

GM:  …and then when I was in Killarney, I’m walking down the street and this little old man is singing “the lunatic’s in the grass” in a real Irish brogue, and I’m blown away.

Will: So I’m in Temple Bar performing it’s my first six hours in Ireland, ever, and I have this amazing experience this stranger comes up to me and asks “Are you an American?” and I say “Yes, I am”  And he asks “where are you from” and I say “New York.” And I say I’m here for my first day. So he says “You’re not going to go anywhere for a few moments?” And I said ‘no’ and he went off and I played a few more songs and he came back and he gave me a Dublin hoodie sweatshirt and he says “This is for you, welcome to Ireland. I wish you all the best.” I mentioned I was heading to Waterford. So my first experience in Ireland was one of tremendous hospitality and that only set the tone for everything that followed.

GM: Did you catch a lot of coins while you were there? Enough money to get where you’re going?

Will: I had my ticket to Ardmore. I end up making 45 Euro ($US 52.00) in about an hour and a half which paid for lunch, a couple pints of Guinness and a little extra. My buddy was picking me up in Waterford—I wasn’t really sure he remembered me until he saw me on the platform with my guitar. Once he could put a face to the memory it was okay and his wife (Rita) was teasing him that the whole way she was bitching at him about picking up this stranger like “who is this?”

GM: That’s an amazing story how you got to Ardmore.

Will: So that night he took me out to meet a couple of the pub owners. The first night there was another performer playing at one of the bars and he actually was the owner so this is a place just outside Ardmore [Dungarvan] called the Marine Bar. The next night, the owner Christy hired me, and he said there’s a wedding at the place and “why don’t you come up and do a song? since you’re here…do a song. So I get up and I think I played Country Road and Dobie Gray’s Drift Away.

GM:  Good songs to open with.

Will: The groom went bananas, they love it, I step off the mike and Christie turns to me and he says “would you play every Sunday night?” The next night I’m going to a gig with my friend who is also a musician, he knows a lot of pub owners, he likes the story. It was John Supple and he has a B&B just outside the village of Ardmore which is now like my Irish home…I go back there every summer. He’s also a very close friend of Aidan.

GM:  How did you first meet him [Aidan Quirke]?

Will: The first night they dropped me off to John at the house and John met me at the door and he said “let’s get you right up to bed because it’s church tomorrow at 6:00 AM.

GM: Oh, perfect [laughing].

Will: He sees the horror in my face and just starts cracking up. They took tremendous care of me.  They eventually reached a routine with us like there’s a formality with B&Bs where you wake up in the morning. Between 8 and 9 you get your breakfast, you sit down and they fill the table with food, a typical Irish breakfast, protein and toast, and each morning as part of the ritual their 8-year-old daughter carries the toast carefully to the table. John’s mother would make my breakfast but it reached such a routine, and eventually I came back for two whole months because I had such an amazing stay, that she said I’ll show you how to make it and it’s all yours. And it worked because I felt a little strange expecting breakfast every morning.

GM:  I had a great time while I was there. Especially with Aidan―just Aidan, me and the bar.

Will: Off season that [Aidan’s] is the local bar. That is the place where the locals go.

Aiden Pub

Aiden’s pub

GM:  I know—I held court. It was like 7 against one. And it was funny because they kept wanting to bring up American politics and I was trying to explain how the primaries work and I would say something about Hillary and something about Trump and at that point Bush was still in at the time and there was one guy almost asleep in the corner and he’d wake up every ten minutes or so and yell “Ah, you’re a Republican, I can tell! It was hysterical. They were kind of fascinated by the whole process. And I was trying to be even handed as I could be describing it. Aidan and I were there about an hour before anyone was there and then they came filtering in. The best thing about it was the cross section, we had a jeweler, a chef, a young guy who was a butcher, I forget what the other guys did but it was such a great mix. As soon as I said [I worked in] Hoboken, they said “Oh, Will O’Connor.” My wife and I got a full day to explore Ardmore and we got to see the ruins and do the cliff walk. When we went up to the round tower and the ruins of the church, a young seminarian was taking a high school group through and we latched on for a great lesson on Ardmore. Then we had dinner at the Cliff House.

Will: That was terrific.

GM:  I found the Cliff House fascinating because we went from small village and the Cliff House is almost like a world class restaurant.

Will: In the beginning, Cliff House was a little bit of a sticking point with the locals. When I first got there, the Cliff House was under its first ownership and it was, I don’t want to say “divey” but it was clearly run down but it had an amazing view and a great pub.

GM:  What year is this?

Will: This was about 2003. And I played a gig there…I played a couple of gigs there. And it was really community friendly. So when it was rebuilt…

GM:  They came in and renovated everything?

Will: They came in and renovated everything. They really weren’t hiring locally which was a little bit of a sore point. That’s no longer the case.

GM: So who stays there? Jet-setters?

Will: Yeah.

GM:  You know the rate there is like $450 and some per night.

Will: There are moments when the locals might go up there and have a good dinner. The White Horse is in the center of town and that’s like my favorite place the year I came out. So they already had a kind of fancy restaurant and then another fancy restaurant up the hill there and it was a little tricky with some people in the village.

GM: When you’re sitting there at night and look across the inlet at that white mansion on the other side, you’re wondering the whole time “what is that” Do people zip down from Dublin or Waterford, the high rollers?

Will: Totally. It’s for people who are wealthy and touring England. And what was happening early on in the eyes of many was they were driving through town in their Mercedes Benzes and arriving at the hotel and otherwise never approaching the village at all; never walking down the hill, just maybe to the art gallery. That perception eventually changed.

GM:  At Aidan’s, does he have like a stage behind his hotel? Or is the stage downtown?

Will:  In the past, when the stage was there [downtown] it was part of the festival down by the water so right along the wall there, they kindda turn that into one be open space. And the bands play up on that stage. Last year they didn’t do it.

GM:  Why?

Will: A lot of it has to do with the committee putting in a lot of energy and…

GM:  I saw the photos they have up on the website from the festival in 2012. They had a full band up there.

Will: Since that second summer, when I went for two months and I really kindda fell into the community and got involved I was painting the school one night — that’s a whole other story— I never knew that painting a school to lead to such a wicked hangover, but it’s Ardmore.

GM: When Joanne and I talk about our trip to Ireland, we consider our time at Ardmore to be the highlight of the trip.

Will: That’s wonderful.

GM:  You go off season, so much to do, the people are great.

Will: I love the quietness of it. That first job I had, I had no problem leaving it so that when I went back that second year for two months. It was such a success, just to talk about the first time I wound up earning more than I could spend so I ended up giving John and his wife above and beyond. At that time I believe Aidan was just considering doing music at the bar because at the hotel bar he was wary of having loud music downstairs. So I played a couple of gigs there but a bunch of gigs at Paddy Mac’s which is now called An Tobar down by the water.

GM:  At Aidan’s where do you play, in the pub?

Will: No but people drift in and out of the pub.  What works in that setting (Aidan calls it the conservatory) when there’s music there and you’re not into it or you want to have a conversation you can go into the bar and still kindda hear the music. But the conservatory is where we play. I met such amazing friends, such incredible, talented people, just a remarkable experience.

GM:  So Ardmore gave you a kick start to your career.

Will: Yes, in some ways it did. Because it kindda showed me that the Irish have a way of showing you, honest performance that I’m not used to at home. I mean, I’m used to wallpaper at home but these people make me feel like a rock star. So at this other place I play every Wednesday, and every Sunday at the other place. Because I was around in the village and new, these gigs became huge events. My farewell concert was like extended into five hours and other musicians coming to perform. It was like an Irish wake. So you’re off to America—so we’re going to show you our hospitality.

GM: Great story.

Will: And I could not help to not go back. The second trip I was actually considering uprooting myself and moving there. I’m trying to find a way at one of the bars. Paddy Mac’s, the owner no longer owns the bar but at the time his wife was using Excel to run the books and I was teaching that here in New York so we made arrangements that I would train Paddy’s wife in Excel in exchange for meals at the pub. So I worked with her about a week doing a bunch of stuff meeting daily and going through all sorts of aspects of it and helped her work out her books. Next thing you know he says you’ll have lunch and dinner until you’re done—on the house.

GM:  I’m an Excel freak so I know where you’re coming from

Will: And that’s just another small kind of hospitality they extended to me. I don’t feel I’m expressing enough how full of gratitude I was to them.

GM:  Joanne and I felt the same the whole time we were there. When we got to Ardmore, she was feeling a little bit under the weather―a sinus reaction.  The funny thing was we first get to Ireland and we’re driving on the other side of the road, it’s freaky and exciting and we almost died on the first roundabout. The first night [outside Dublin] we stayed in Kilkenny, it’s ironic because we’re staying in Kilkenny and I’m not realizing that down the street is the stadium where Bruce played.

[Editor’s note: Bruce gave the finale of the European tour of the Wrecking Ball at Nowland Park, Kilkenny’s stadium on July 27 and 28, 2013. Bruce played four gigs in Ireland, all sell-outs: Kilkenny, 54,292; Limerick, 28,091; Cork, 37,328; Belfast, 28,211]

GM: We drove to Ardmore from Kilkenny and get to Ardmore and it’s deserted, nobody there and we pull into Aidan’s parking lot and I’m thinking “this is great a whole parking lot and no cars—I can park here. One thing I have to say about Ireland. I expected to go into a lot of places  and hear Irish music―I must have walked all over Killarney walking into different pubs sampling what music was playing and I was hoping for some real Irish music. Apparently all the tourist traps are playing some Irish music. The funny part, we get up to Knock, up in Country Mayo and on the way back it got dark and we would up at this rather big hotel and the guy was playing American Western, Johnny Cash, not even Outlaws stuff so on the break I’m talking to him asking if he knows any Eric Church or Dierks Bentley and he’s like “What?” so I’m telling him that they have these killer songs and I started rattling off a list and he’s scribbling them down. And I told him instead of playing the same Johnny Cash tunes he could be playing these current tunes and they’d think he was some sort of Country god or rock star. You go on YouTube, look these guys up get the music and you’ll be a god.

Will: There’s a well established country singer here, Paddy O’Brien. It might have been at one of the first gigs I was booked at Paddy Mac’s and it has two stages. There’s a hall in the back where they can put on larger acts and there’s a small cozy bar and this little pub part had even smaller rooms to make it even cozier. What happened was Paddy O’Brien was playing in the hall but when his manager had heard that I was playing in the bar he was concerned there would be competition. They were collecting at the door so he was worried that I’d be drawing away the crowd. He decided unilaterally that he was going to announce that I was not going to be playing in the bar but I was going to be Paddy’s special guest star from New York, Willie O’Connor. So this comes out and the bar owner says there’s a complication and the complication was for some reason Paddy O’Brien’s road manager decided this and he didn’t believe it to be fair. Paddy O’Brien’s has his own crowd, it’s an older set.  I think we’re going to have a totally different crowd he’s going to have his people and we’re going to have not-these people. Now, it gets up to the gig, I show up at Paddy Mac’s and the owner says would I mind going up and talking to Paddy O’Brien. And Paddy was up there in his living room doing a kind of green room thing ―this is a professional road tour, just the fact that they had a road manager is enough for me, they’ve got roadies and a van. These guys are touring. Paddy O’Brien is introduced to me and I told him my story, apparently Paddy Mac had told him something about me and he tells me look, the problem is that my fans have been told that you’re my special guest star, and I totally agree with Paddy, I’m going to be doing my thing with my people and you’ll be doing your thing, and If you don’t mind come up on your break and play a couple of songs —we’ll work them out right now. And I said, sure, why not, sounds fun.

GM: So what would you play?

Will: My big hits that first summer were Country Road and Drifting Away  Gimme the beat and free my soul…) in fact we kindda called that the “summer song of Ardmore” and we play it every time and cherish the memory we all had from that first summer. And so I showed him the three songs, I threw in a tune I played a lot in Hoboken, If I could, and that’s it, so next thing you know I’m in the bar playing my gig, I take a break, I get up, walk through the kitchen with my guitar, exit into the hall haul myself up onto the stage, play three numbers for Paddy O’Brien, who is a true gentlemen, what a guy, honestly, we have a blast, everyone is going hey terrific, Michael Hennessy and his wife were at the Paddy O’Brien concert. I come back in through the kitchen back into the bar and play the rest of my show. At the end of the night, Paddy O’Brien comes up to me and he thanks me again and he’s like you really did me a solid and he hands me a sizable amount of money like better than a gig’s worth of cash. And he says this is for you, you totally saved my hide, any time, any time, you just let me know. I’m like ‘thank you so much that was so much fun’―what a blast.

GM: That was in year one or year two?

Will: That was in Year One.

GM: So that first year was one bizarre year. So you’ve gone back every year?

Will: So ever since I have returned every summer. What I eventually wanted to get around to the night we’re talking about. So I keep going back, and I have a close relationship with these people that I am terribly proud of and cherish, it’s so important to me that they let me call Ardmore my Irish home. Like that’s the most generous gift that they’ve given me. When I arrive there, it’s like coming home to family. My wife and I are walking down the street and we are constantly being interrupted ‘Oh my God, Willie, you’re here’  And while it’s not all on the scale like it was those first few summers, when I do get over there and Aidan is able to give me a couple of gigs and the guy who owns what used to be Paddy Mac’s, gives me a night or two, those nights are terrific nights, the community comes out we have a great time so that night..

GM: Well they know they are going to only have you for a limited amount of time.

Will: That’s right. And Aidan is good at feeling it out and so it always happens that it’s a great night —they do well, I’m so happy to be able to bring them business when I can and they treat me very generously and allow me to kinda like fit into their week however it works, traditionally, how it’s worked the past few years is Aidan hires me to play the weekend of festival week so that’s coming up this year.

So the night that Bruce played, I am playing at Aidan’s.

So because I’m close to these people when Hoboken comes up among my friends, they’ll automatically “Oh I know Hoboken” It took a while before I stopped saying “I’m here from New York”

GM: I went to school in Baltimore so I’d say ‘the New York Area’ if I said ‘New Jersey’ they start asking where along the beach do I mean. So, wait, you’re living in Hoboken but where do you hail from?

Will: I come from South Bloomfield. I was born in Montclair. My parents are natives of Queens. Both my parents were teachers. My dad is a retired history professor.

GM: Irish, so what about your mom?

Will: My mom is Sicilian. So special night Saturday night, festival week, a lot of people from the village are out and I’m certain that a bunch of people have gone up to the concert and we had a nice cool evening. But because people know I’m from New Jersey and because people know about Hoboken, and we’ve played Sinatra for years, I do a bunch of Jersey Boys’ tunes, especially when Jersey Boys was a thing and when Frankie Valli was getting big I play like I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You. First, some background: Every summer for twelve years, I’ve visited Aidan’s village, Ardmore, for at least a week and occasionally for as much as a couple months. I came there as a scrappy musician and just hung out locally, made friends and played music. Over the years, these friendships have grown into something like family. Now, when I come back each summer, they announce on local community radio that I’m “home again.” They know me well. Any mention of New Jersey and especially Hoboken, in Ardmore, and my name is bound to come up. I hope I’ve made a good reputation for us.

GM: So how is it that you played the same night as Bruce?

Will: I’m generally there around the end of July when the town hosts a small festival revolving around their patron saint, St. Declan of Ardmore. The town fills up with visitors and Aidan and his wife usually book me to play a couple nights. In 2013, this annual visit coincided with Springsteen’s tour in Ireland, and I had a gig in Aidan’s hotel on the same night as Springsteen’s in Kilkenny.

GM: So, two Jersey boys —you in Ardmore and Bruce in Kilkenny.

Will: That’s right and now it’s kindda the joke and I am certain I made some jokes that night to the point of, you know, who’s drawing more, and me telling my audience that I was glad they made the right choice.

GM: That brings me back to the night I saw Peter Frampton in Central Park and that night The Rolling Stones were playing at Madison Square Garden so Frampton played Jumping Jack Flash. It was something special. So, can you recall which Bruce tunes you played that particular night?

Will: I normally don’t play a lot of Springsteen [in Hoboken] because in the circuit, there are guys who play a lot. I’m not out to compete with them.

GM: Why not an acoustic Born in the USA or Born to Run or something difference?

Will: I’ve much into the deeper emotional [Bruce] tunes.

GM: So Tom Joad would be good, too.

Will: The River is one of the songs I do. That was a special request, actually. An Irishman I knew in New Jersey, a bartender here in Hoboken was going back to Ireland to be with his young wife, his new young wife that had just gotten pregnant and he asked me to play his sendoff party and learn The River. So I came to that song from a totally other angle. The other songs I do are I’m on Fire and Brilliant Disguise. So the thing is that since I started playing, I didn’t want to feel pressure to be a certain kind of performer. I decided that as I was learning songs, I would sway away from ones everyone else was doing. For instance, people ask for Brown Eye Girl, I’m like I don’t do Brown Eyed Girl. We do eight other Van Morrison songs, all good, you know; I don’t play Sweet Caroline but we do four other Neil Diamond tunes. So, in the Jersey circuit, there are a lot of guys who do Bruce. So, what I thought I would do was take certain ones I particularly love, that fans would know and love, that they don’t hear from everybody else.

GM: Are Bruce’s tunes difficult to play?

Will: They can be, and there’s also the fact that a lot of what I do is self taught so, anything with intricate riffs and all that kind of stuff, I just don’t have time to learn. I try to simplify and break them down to get to the emotion more directly.

GM: But when you’re doing a tune like that are you thinking in a way, in the back of your head, of the artists? When you’re playing Springsteen, you know it’s Bruce Springsteen and you’re putting yourself into it, so how far into him are you?

Will: Here’s the thing—what I love about playing other people’s tunes is there’s something to get out of performing other people’s tunes. Like an actor gets to wear a character, gets to experience that character, I get to wear these remarkably creative emotions and ideals. So I favor songs that have a little more depth which is why when I choose to perform I’m on Fire it was because there’s a depth to it―an emotional experience that I may not have had yet or, have yet to have. Now that I’m 41, I feel these emotions are somehow more familiar.

GM: Do you also think that in a way you’re bringing your “American-ness” or whatever you may call it, to  Ireland—you’re showing them a piece of your culture.

Will: Absolutely. That’s a great point to make. The reason is that when I’m in Ireland I don’t really play Irish music; when I’m here I play some Irish but it’s one of those things like I always felt that they don’t need me there [Ardmore] to play their songs for them. There are some songs I do that match my voice very well and kindda have that emotional drama and they actually request me to sing them. There’s a great Irish tune called ___ one of my college friends called it “the saddest song ever written,” I mean it’s dark, but it’s so beautiful and there are a couple songs like that.

GM: I guess it’s great to find a unique Irish song and then bring it back here.

Will: I also made a little part of my business in performing here in the States and through word of mouth, I am landing all these gigs in Yonkers and the Bronx, where all the Irish ex-pats are. I’ve been playing like Irish hurling teams’ parties.

GM: Aiden mentioned you had a brush with the E Street Band.

Will: Oh yeah, another thing happened on that [2013] trip.  I played at the end of the festival and so when I was leaving for home a few days later, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I, saw Jake Clemons in the airport after the tour. Unfortunately, I have a thing about not approaching celebrities in public, so I never interacted with him. I do remember feeling a bit of jealousy later that he didn’t have to check his guitar. “Someday,” I said to myself, “someday.”

GM: Do you also think that in a way you’re bringing your “American-ness” or whatever you may call it to Ireland, you’re showing them a piece of your culture.

Will: Absolutely. That’s a great point to make. When I’m in Ireland, I don’t really play Irish music; when I’m here in the States, I play some Irish, but I always felt that they don’t need me there [in Ardmore] to play their songs for them. There are some songs I do that match my voice very well and kindda have that emotional drama and they will actually request me to sing them. There’s a great Irish tune called Carrickfergus. One of my college friends called it “the saddest song ever written.” I mean it’s dark, but it’s so beautiful and there are a couple traditional Irish songs like that I just love.

GM: I guess it’s great to find a unique Irish song and then bring it back here.

Will: Totally. I’ve also made it a little part of my business in performing here in the States and through word of mouth, I am landing all these gigs in Yonkers and the Bronx, where all the Irish ex-pats are. I’ve been playing at everything from Christenings to Irish hurling teams’ parties.

GM:  What Sinatra songs do you cover?

Will: That’s Life, My Way, that’s a big favorite in our bar. Fly Me To The Moon, Night and Day. There’s only so much I can get close to Frankie Valli’s voice that I can get to.

GM: What do you do in your spare time, when you’re not practicing or playing gigs?

Will: My hobby is woodworking

GM: [laughing] so you wear chain mail gloves

Will: [laughing] I’m just very careful when I work.

GM: Like, hand me that chain saw.

Will: Just careful, detailed work.