by Susan Marquez
An internet search of Carlow, Ireland turns up a list of “Fifteen Top Attractions in Carlow” on Tripadvisor.com. It’s difficult to believe that watching Shane Hennessy in concert isn’t one of them. The virtuoso fingerstyle guitarist has been playing music since he was four years old. “I was a concertina player. A teacher at school had one and I told Santa that’s what I wanted for Christmas.” Shane explains that children in Ireland play an instrument straight through until eighth grade. “At age ten or eleven, I won Fleadh,” states Shane. “It’s a festival of Irish music, dancing, and culture.”
But at age twelve, his musical tastes took a different turn. “I discovered the music of James Taylor at my grandmother’s funeral when I was twelve years old and I fell in love!”
The soundtrack from the movie Remembering the Titans, classic rock and R&B, also had a profound effect on Shane. “Until that time, I had never had interest in anything other than classical music. The interesting thing about Irish music is that it is all done by ear. Because of my training in Irish music, I had a good ear to pick out notes. In my background with Irish music, there is no harmony. You play the tune, and you have rhythm. My dad said I needed to learn chords.”
Shane’s cousin, who recognized Shane’s love of music, gave him a list of names of artists to listen to. “I saw Tommy Emmanuel on YouTube, on a show out of Lexington, Kentucky called WoodSongs Ole Time Radio Hour. That was life-changing for me. I wanted to learn everything about him and find out where he got his guitar-playing skills. I watched live interviews with Emmanuel and other artists including Merle Travis and Jerry Reed.”
At the age of 13, Shane performed in his first show. He finished school at the age of 17 and went to college where he studied psychology for three years.
“After graduation, I decided to give music a go.” He played in local venues, as well as at festivals and on television. “Doors were opening here and there, and I had a policy of saying yes to every opportunity.”
His background in Irish traditional music has created a solid base for Shane’s genre-defying musical explorations. One fateful day in 2016, Shane received a Facebook message from Tommy Emmanuel. “He said he had seen some of my YouTube videos and he liked my style. He said he would like for me to join him on stage. I am thankful to Culture Ireland for being a big help in making that happen.”
Merle Travis, a country music singer from Kentucky, developed “Travis Picking,” a syncopated style of guitar fingerpicking rooted in ragtime music that uses alternating chords and bass notes plucked by the thumb while melodies are plucked simultaneously by the index finger.
Travis was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977. Famed guitarist Chet Atkins was inspired by Merle Travis. Tommy Emmanuel was inspired by Atkins.
“I was inspired by Tommy Emmanuel,” says Shane, “and my hope is to inspire everyone who comes behind me. I am working to develop a method I can teach via Skype to an international audience.” Shane says that Emmanuel has been a big help in boosting his career. “He’s opened every door for me.”
Shane is like a musical sponge, and he is constantly listening to music, and creating music in his head as he has varied life experiences. “I write all my music away from the guitar. I think like a band to get those dynamics. I believe music comes from within you. In the last few years of touring, I have had many experiences that have influenced me. One example is in Marrakech, where I was influenced by Arabic music.” Shane is also interested in African music, which has led to his percussive guitar-playing approach. The result is a very energetic contemporary guitar playing style with cinematically vivid compositions which tie in multiple influences from various world and ethnic music.
In addition to Tommy Emmanuel, Shane has also caught the attention of super-producer Nile Rodgers. At the age of 26, Shane was born into the age of computers. He is very internet savvy, with his own YouTube channel that includes not only videos of his music, but just recently he posted a how-to video titled How to Improve Your Livestream on YouTube.
The last few years have found Shane traveling the world, but he always returns to his hometown in Ireland. “I practice three to four hours every day,” he says. “I look at it as maintenance. If I don’t practice every day I know it.”
Shane Hennessy has released three albums of original music and works frequently as a songwriter and composer. His most recent album is called Rain Dance, which was released in April with a special livestream concert. His performance of the cover song during a showcase at this year’s Folk Alliance International Festival in New Orleans resulted in a standing ovation.
(feature photo by by Scott Murrish Photography at Appaloosa Festival)