Hillbillies legend Kevin Sheerin launches new album

By David Flynn

Moate band The Hillbillies are one of the biggest country groups to come out of Ireland over the past six decades, and now founder, Kevin Sheerin, already a best-selling songwriter, has released a new solo album.

Kevin is accompanied by his five children on several of the eighteen tracks that make up Eternity, a standout of which is Town of Athlone.

“I wanted to try and write a song about Athlone and then I heard the music so clear, and a line came to me where I said I walked through Church Street and then saw a young man playing a guitar on the bridge,” said Kevin.

Kevin has been influenced by different singers over his career including James Taylor and Vince Gill and he wrote songs for the album that would have suited both voices.

Kevin’s son, Cormac sang the Taylor-influenced song People in Need. Another country music song, Out of my Mind, was written with the voice of Vince Gill in his mind.

“Vince’s voice inspired me to write the song, but I’ve never sent the song to him or the People in Need song to James Taylor,” laughed Kevin.

In 1986, Kevin wrote a pop song, You Can Count on Me, sung by the group LuvBug, which went on to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest. The song came fourth that year in Bergen, Norway.

Almost forty years later, Kevin laughed about the experience. He said it was the only competition he has ever entered, and puts his win down to the popularity of the Hillbillies playing around the country.

“The Hillbillies started big and we had over 1,000 at our first gig in 1969, because the word was out about Ray Lynam being our lead singer,” recalled Kevin.

Another of Kevin’s classic songs from long ago, My Father’s House, is on the Eternity album by his granddaughter, Jessica Rogers. The hugely popular song, Nancy Myles is sung by himself, and Another Town by his son, Barry Sheerin.

Kevin’s daughter, Susan, sings the Mary Black number, Sonny, and his son David sings the hugely popular Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler.

Afterglow, which was recorded by Ed Sheerin, is performed on the album by Kevin’s daughter, Anita.

“What gave me the idea for the song, Eternity was I saw a heading on a Catholic paper, which said ‘Where Will You Spend Eternity?’ and I changed it to ‘Where Will We Spend Eternity?’” he said.

“The idea of the first line was, comparing the length of our lives on this earth with eternity and how the length of life on this earth is like a flash of light, compared to eternity.”

The first and the last song of the album are spiritual-type songs. The final song is entitled, The Light of Love.

“I can’t exactly tell you how the songs come to me, but they are mostly story songs,” explained Kevin. “I usually have the guitar in my hand and can never think of words without a melody. I’ve also written some melodies without words.”

The Sheerin family name is synonymous with music in the Midlands region, and Kevin was the second youngest of ten siblings raised in Castledaly.

For around fifty years, Kevin played guitar alongside the biggest Irish music stars. He played steel, electric and acoustic guitar in Daniel O’Donnell’s band for almost twenty years.

The first band Kevin played in was the Merrymen, with singer Ray Lynam. He joined the group in 1965, and remained with the Moate group until around 1968, when Kevin joined Athlone ceilí group, the Kieran Kelly band for around eighteen months.

Kevin later formed The Hillbillies in 1969, along with Ray Lynam, and the group became Ray Lynam and the Hillbillies, and Kevin continued on with this successful group into the mid 1980s.

He played 17 years with the Lynam bands, and then travelled for seven years with Jimmy Buckley’s band.

Kevin Sheerin has also played in Branson, Missouri, USA over the years. He was in Daniel O’Donnell’s band, performed in Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, the Ryman Auditorium, and in the Sydney Opera House.

“When I was in Daniel’s band, I used to sing my song, Smiling, on stage and it always got a great reaction, and it could be the most popular song on the album,” he said. “Although according to some of my children, their favourite song on the album is A Little More Time.”

While on a music cruise ship with Daniel’s band, Kevin was asked by a music executive to write a song, and he wrote, When You’re in Love. The song is sung on Eternity by his son, Barry Sheerin.

Kevin’s first solo album, My Father’s House was recorded in the 1980s and this second album is made after decades of encouragement from his family.

“My family have always encouraged me, and my wife Mary especially, and they thought recording another album would be good in case I’d be bored after retiring,” he joked.

“I invited my family to sing some of the songs on the album and in the process I’ve learned that they are all good singers. I want to give a special mention to Padraig Grogan, who is originally from Moate, for his great assistance and advice in recording Eternity.”

A link to purchase Kevin Sheerin’s album, Eternity, for €10, can be found here.

A promotional video for the album, which features a sampling of some of the songs, can also be viewed on Kevin Sheerin's Facebook page, and here: