The Songs

I offer my sincerest apologies to everyone who notices that a Cotter standard is missing. Several members of the Diddley Owdle Dowdle chorus have already lodged formal protests. John and I never sang our Irish songs with guitar as accompaniment when we were in school. When people asked me to break out my guitar for the Irish songs I responded “No, the rebel tunes are better accompanied by a bottle of Jameson’s.” Most of the Irish songs here are ones from our law school repertoire that transitioned easily from Jameson’s accompaniment to finger-picking guitar.

John loved a good story and any song that told a story. He loved Frank O’Connor, considering him to be the grand Irish storyteller. So too he loved John Prine, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. Their songs told the story of life. I selected some songs that John and I sang over and over; these songs attribute Cotter for part of the arrangement. I have also selected songs that may not have been sung by us in the rare old times, but they are still songs I closely identify with Cotter, perhaps because they tell a story.

The last three songs are not Irish at all, but are for me still “Cotter’s Tunes.” I used to sing “Waiting for a Train” on my guitar in law school and would, when properly lubricated, even end with the trademark Jimmie Rodgers yodel. To my knowledge, before law school, Cotter had never heard of Jimmie Rodgers and had no exposure to a song with a yodel in it that was not performed by a guy with short pants and suspenders. Cotter was instantly a fan of the yodeling brakeman. He bought all the vinyl he could find and practiced the Jimmie Rodgers songbook on his guitar at home in Buffalo. Fortunately for all of you, the yodeling on this cut is provided by Pat Donohue’s guitar.

“Solid Gone” is a train song that I also sang on the guitar in law school. It has the added bonus of mentioning the City of Buffalo. I tried to explain once to Cotter that I did not think that the “Buffalo” in this song was in upstate New York. He paid little attention. John loved Buffalo and he loved trains. He also loved this song. This song is one of the first songs that Pat Donohue taught me to play on guitar in about 1972.

John Prine’s song “Please Don’t Bury Me” was one that Cotter and I sang over and over in Law School. We sang it and laughed until the tears would roll down our cheeks. As young men we seemed to find inordinate pleasure in singing amusing songs about Irish wakes (“Rosin the Bow”), funeral arrangements (“Please Don’t Bury Me”) and fatal shipwrecks (The Mermaid”). There were many other such songs. I thought long and hard about including the Prine song here. After all it is not Irish, and some might take offense. You have it because I knew that John would have been disappointed with its omission.

The Songs
1. ROSIN THE BOW, Traditional, arranged by Kevin Short, John Cotter and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue harmony vocals and guitar.
The town fiddler plans his own wake. Cotter and I wore this song out as young men, always delivered in the style of what Tommy Makem describes as “an Irish drunken song.” I sang it with John’s friends from Buffalo at the West Side Rowing Club after his funeral. This is closer to that rendition, both joyful and sad.

2. I’LL TELL MY MA, Traditional, arranged by Kevin Short and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue guitar.
A Dublin playground song. I have taken the liberty of changing “Dublin City” to “New York City” in honor of young Marion McCann, my mother, the youngest of five children born to Irish immigrants in New York City between the two world wars.

3. WILD ROVER, arranged by Kevin Short, John Cotter and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue guitar.
Another good Irish drunken song; in the end the prodigal son finds redemption.

4. THE MERMAID, Traditional, arranged by Kevin Short, John Cotter and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue harmony vocals and guitar.
The Irish love a good sailing song. If everyone drowns in a shipwreck, all the better. Perfection is found in a chorus that everyone can sing along with between pints of Guinness. John and I were also known to sing “The Irish Rover” and “Donegal Danny”, yet more songs that laugh in the face of death at sea.

5. WHISKEY IN THE JAR, Traditional, arranged by Kevin Short and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue harmony vocals and guitar.
This song has little to do with whiskey and more to do withbetrayal in love--just one in a long line of Irish armed-robbery songs, among them “Wild Colonial Boy” and “Brennan on the Moor.” I am told that this song has somehow become a heavy metal standard. Well now, the Irish had it for two hundred years before those fellas.

6. MARIE'S WEDDING, Traditional, arranged by Kevin Short and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue guitar.
A Scottish wedding song, which I believe was brought to the Irish songbook by Tommy Makem’s mother, Sarah. With five daughters, I have been practicing this song out of necessity. Do you think I can afford to pay the band five times now?

7. MICK MCGUIRE, Traditional, arranged by Kevin Short and John Cotter, Kevin Short vocals and guitar.
Not long after the wedding, it seems that the mother-in-law problems begin. I cannot explain my attachment to this song since I have been blessed with two perfect mothers-in-law. If you learn the words to only one song for Saint Paddy’s Day, I would recommend you start here. Recruit a “Diddley Owdle Dowdle Chorus” with at least one member who is tone deaf. Add Jameson’s.

8. LONG BLACK VEIL, by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill. Arranged by Kevin Short and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue harmony vocals and slide guitar.
This was a big hit for Johnny Cash in the sixties; it became an Irish standard when the Chieftains recorded it thirty years later with an English singer named Jagger. Go figure. As a big Johnny Cash fan and a practicing criminal defense lawyer, I feel a special connection with this song. It tells a riveting story about the tragic combination of infidelity and honor, which results in the execution of an innocent man.

9. NELL FLAHERTY'S DRAKE, Traditional, arranged by Pat Clancy and John Cotter, Kevin Short vocals.
The allegorical homage to the great Robert Emmet sets up a series of five republican songs.

10. THE MINSTREL BOY, Traditional melody, lyrics by Thomas Moore, arranged by Kevin Short, Kevin Short vocals and guitar.
The two-hundred-year-old lyrics by the great Irish poet, Thomas Moore, commemorate his comrades who fell in the 1798 Wexford Rebellion.

11. KELLY THE BOY FROM KILANE, Traditional, arranged by Kevin Short, Daniel Short and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue guitar.
Another Wexford Rebellion song. John Kelly was wounded at the battle of New Ross before being captured and executed by the British. Cotter took great joy in my describing how I would sing this song to my then one-year-old son, Danny, who would grab his crib rail and rock back and forth while “singing” along. Danny was not quite two when John passed away.

12. THE FOGGY DEW, Traditional melody, lyrics by Father Charles O’Neill, arranged by Kevin Short and John Cotter, Kevin Short vocals and guitar.
As we near the centennial, this song recounts Easter1916, from the perspective of a participant, a few years after the fact.

13. THE BOYS OF THE OLD BRIGADE, by Pat McGuigan. Arranged by Kevin Short, Kevin Short vocals and guitar.
The Easter Rising is again recalled, this time decades later by a graying participant explaining his Easter melancholy to his son. The Gaelic phrase “a grah mo chroi” in each chorus translates to “with love in my heart.” The sentiment reminds me of something John taught me as a young man – the ritual of pouring a splash of what you are drinking onto the earth while somberly stating “A wee drop for the poor dead souls, now.”

14. WAITING FOR A TRAIN, by Jimmie Rodgers. Arranged by Kevin Short and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue guitar.
Cotter loved Jimmie Rodgers and he loved trains.

15. SOLID GONE, Traditional, arranged by Pat Donohue and Kevin Short, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue guitar.
A train song that mentions Buffalo was everything Cotter needed to know about this song. Pat taught it to me; I believe he learned it from an old Tom Rush record. Woody Guthrie did a similar song called “Baltimore to Washington.”

16. PLEASE DON'T BURY ME, by John Prine. Arranged by Kevin Short and Pat Donohue, Kevin Short vocals and guitar, Pat Donohue harmony vocals and guitar.
Prine used to say that this song is about a guy who decided to donate his body to medical science. Prine’s songs can make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time.

Cotters Tunes