Songwriting legend Johnny dies

The late Johnny McCauley.
The late Johnny McCauley.

JOHNNY McCauley, the founder of the “Country & Irish” sound and one of Derry’s most celebrated music stars who penned dozens of hit songs, has died in London following a long illness. He was 86 years old.

Born in April 1925, Johnny - who grew up in the Rosemount area of the city - moved to London as a young man and, in 1953, took up singing professionally with his band, The Westernaires, at The Galtymore, the now defunct Cricklewood dancehall.

Johnny in his early days on the music circuit.

Johnny in his early days on the music circuit.

A life-long country music fan, he began to pen and release songs on his own Denver Records label and formed a band, The Johnny McCauley Trio, which played regularly in and around the English capital.

McCauley’s songs were soon being covered by a selection of Irish singing stars, such as Big Tom and Larry Cunningham.

He was one of the first to blend U.S. country sounds with Irish-interest lyrics to such winning effect.

Johnny wrote more than 80 songs in his career, including “Destination Donegal”, “Among The Wicklow Hills”, “Pretty Little Girl From Omagh” and “Four Country Roads”; others include John Wayne and Barry McGuigan tribute songs.

Christy Moore recorded his song ‘Among The Wicklow Hills’ and Daniel O’Donnell has recorded his songs. Indeed, O’Donnell’s first ever studio recording, “My Donegal Shore”, was composed by Johnny and it is the name the singing star later gave his home.

Indeed, Kincasslagh’s most famous son has said of “My Donegal Shore”: “That composition will always be close to my heart.”

Singer Margo said of the late songwriter, “Johnny was one of the good guys.”, while Mick Flavin said: “He was quite simply one of Ireland’s greatest songwriters.

“He will be sadly missed.”

Johnny’s son, Chris, said his father has “made a huge contribution to Irish and Country music.”

“I remember a lot of the characters from the music business that used to be around when I was growing up,” he added.

“A lot people knew him in London as he had as residency at The Galtymore.

“Later on, he became very well known for his writing.

“He had about 85 songs published - he had a real winning streak.”

Chris described his father as a quiet homebird, but someone who became the life and soul of the party when he went out.

“Dad was a wonderful storyteller and a total comedian.

“He’d have people on the edge of their seats when he told one of his anecdotes.”

Interviewed by the ‘Journal’ in 2004, Johnny said: “It’s always nice to know that songs I wrote many, many years ago remain as popular today as they did when first released.”

Eddie Davis, who organised many concerts in Derry in the 1950s and 1960s, once told the ‘Journal’: “What Johnny McCauley did for Irish people and, in particular, the people of Derry in the music business should never be underestimated.

“He opened the door for Irish bands in London which saw them finally get the big break they were after.”

Johnny is survived by his wife, Phyllis, and son Chris.

His funeral will take place on April 3 (9.15 a.m.) at All Saints Catholic Church, Kenton Rd, Kenton, Middlesex.