Andy Cooney is a very talented singer from Long Island New York, who specializes if Irish traditional music. After watching his grandfather sing around the house and in church, Andy decided to take follow in his footsteps. Starting with the piano, Andy began learning and singing music, and as a teenager, he would perform at local nursing homes for the seniors. As time and his talents progressed, he would take a steady gig at Kennedy's in New York City and perform at dinner hour. One night during his performance, an established Irish band leader was in attendance, and he really enjoyed watching Andy Perform. Paddy Noonan asked Andy to join his band, and they toured all over America for 8 years. During his tenure with Paddy, they recorded the very popular "Irish Wedding Song" and it sold very well and wound up being a standard at Irish weddings. Eventually, Andy went on his own with his own group, and has recorded many albums and toured the world. Andy is also part of the New York Tenors, which performs as a trio with two other talented New York area singers. They will be performing a Christmas show at Carnegie Hall in December. I recently talked with Andy.
R.V.B. - Hey Andy, how are you doing today? Congratulations on your career so far. You seem to be going strong. Did you just get back from a tour of Ireland?
A.C. - I did and it went great. The first half was a bus tour with mostly Americans and a few foreigners. We showed them Ireland and we played for them at the hotels that we stayed in. I brought in musical guests from the areas we played at to perform with us. The second half was working on my new album in Granard, and also doing some radio and TV interviews.
R.V.B. - Have you been going to Ireland a lot? How long were you there for?
A.C. - I've been going to Ireland for the last 25 years and this time was for about three weeks.
R.V.B. - You come from a big family of nine siblings, are any of your brother and sisters professional musicians also?
A.C. - No, I'm the only one. We all took music lessons growing up but I was the only one that took to it.
R.V.B. - I know your grandfather was involved in music... was he a professional musician?
A.C. - He wasn't a professional but he could have been... he was that talented. He used to sing in St. Mary's church in Flushing. He was from Dublin Ireland. He came to America in the 1920's and settled in Queens. He used to sing at church functions like funerals and weddings but he never sang professional.
R.V.B. - Did he sense that you had some talent and nurture you along?
A.C. - Yes... definitely. I learned a lot of my songs from him... a lot of the old classics. He was a huge influence on me from when I was very young.
R.V.B. - So as there was a pop music scene going on and you were concentrating on the Irish heritage genre... did you learn any pop songs from the radio as you were developing your chops?
A.C. - I grew up in the 1980's and I was always a big U2 fan. Believe it or not, I was a big fan of heavy metal. I have an eclectic music taste. I'm also a big country music fan also. If music is good... I like it.
R.V.B. - Did you start singing first or playing the piano first?
A.C. - I started playing the piano first. When I was very young, there was a piano in the house after my grandmother had passed away back in the late 60's. We ended up with her piano in our house. When I was about 5, I started doodling on it. I started hearing music naturally... by ear. Eventually I had lessons. I did a semester at Nassau Community College in music where I learned classical music as well.
R.V.B. - Did you have a high school band where you played at local functions.
A.C. - Yeah we did. We played at the church bizarre up at St. Rose of Lima... which is the parish near where I grew up.
R.V.B. - What was your first gig? A.C. - When I was very young, I used to play in nursing homes. My dad would drop me off with my keyboards and I would play for the old people. I would play some old time music, and It was my first experience at performing. I was probably 13 years old at that time. As far as turning professional... my first professional gig was when I was 17. I was playing in Manhattan, as at restaurant called "Kennedy's"... on 2nd Avenue. They had a piano in the back room and I used to play during dinner hour. I would play for 2 hours, 2 or 3 night a week there. I did that from my junior and senior year of high school into my first year of college. I would jump on the train to Manhattan to do my thing and then jump on the train to come home.
A.C. - Absolutely. Playing at Kennedy's led to playing with a man named Paddy Noonan for 8 years. I was a young kid playing there and he came in with his wife for dinner, and he offered me a job. I went touring with his band which was very well known in the music world for almost 8 years.
R.V.B. - Was that a regional touring band?
A.C. - Mostly the United States and Canada.
R.V.B. - That must have been exciting.
A.C. - Yeah, it was for a young guy.
R.V.B. - Were there any particular gigs that stand out?
A.C. - There were so many great gigs that we did. He was so well known in our industry. We did lots of performing arts centers and theaters around the country. We did a lot of festivals... we did a lot of recording. He got me going in the recording world because he owned a record label. I had recorded the "Irish Wedding Song" in 1986. It was a big, big favorite and sold loads of records... a couple of hundred thousand. They were LP's and cassettes at that time.
R.V.B. - I'm sure you got a lot of work in weddings.
A.C. - It did. The "Irish Wedding Song" was played at each and every wedding in America. If you were Irish and getting married, it had to be played. It was a record that launched my career in the Irish music world.
R.V.B. - You eventually went out on your own? Were you a little apprehensive about it or did you think that the transition would go well?
A.C. - In 1994, I eventually went out on my own. I was with Paddy for 8 years. I was the keyboard player and singer and we had a lot of great success, but I went as far as I was going to go with it. I wasn't going any further with it so the next step was to go on my own and make it happen for myself. By that time I was ready. I had learned so much and I knew what I wanted to do... and it was time. At first it was a little nerve-wracking because when I left Paddy Noonan in February in 1994, I was getting married in June and we had just bought a house. There were a lot of things happening at once.
A.C. - I did, and I'm still in that same house. It all worked out, thank God.
R.V.B. - You started getting some pretty high end gigs. I see that in 2004 you did a public television special with a real big band. Is that one of the biggest bands that you have played with?
A.C. - I have been with symphony orchestras that have had 60 or 70 people in it but up to that point, that was one of my biggest undertakings... that PBS special. We did that in Nashville Tennessee with my Irish band, along with The Nashville Strings. We had approximately 25 string players on stage with us. It was quite an event to be a part of. We prepared a good three months of hard rehearsals for it. The concert eventually aired on PBS.
R.V.B. - What size band do you use for a club setting and what size band do you use for let's say an arts fair theater?
A.C. - Well it kind of depends. When I'm working my Irish theater shows, I have my band that I've been working with for 25 years. 3 or 4 of those guys are on every show. Last night we played a club in Yonkers and we had our 4 piece band. When I work with the New York Tenors, we use another band and it's a whole different genre of music. We have a 10 piece mini-orchestra and none of my band is included in that. I'm on my way right now to sing with The New York Tenors at a fundraising dinner in Camden New Jersey.
R.V.B. - Camden is where the old RCA studios and record plant was.
A.C. - Yes. Were doing a Christmas show there for the Camden Catholic Diocese in Sewell New Jersey.
R.V.B. - There's 3 major singers in the New York Tenors. You cover the Irish side... you have the Latino side...and the Italian side. Do you guys showcase your songs separately at first and then join together at the end?
A.C. - Usually we sing together on most of the show and then we'll drop off and do something on our own. We are a group and we are good together. These guys are some singers... Daniel Rodriguez and Christopher Macchio. They really bring it, so you have to be on your game when you sing with these guys.
R.V.B. - Very nice. Why did it take 20 years to finish "Bright Brand New Day"?
A.C. - (Hahaha) This is actually a great story. Back in 1993, the record company gave me permission to record this album with Phil Coulter, and they gave us a budget to work with. We went into the studio in Dublin and we were halfway through the album when the company changed their mind. The album was halfway done and it sat there because there was no money. About 20 years later in 2013, I said to Phil Coulter "Look, we have half the album done... why don't we finish it?" He said to me "When did we start that... 10 years ago?" I said "Try 20 years ago." He couldn't believe it. As it ended up, we went into the same studio, because it was still functioning as a recording studio 20 years later. The same piano was there and the same soundboard was there as well as Pro Tools and all of the updated recording equipment. It was like we never left the studio and we finished the album.
R.V.B. - How is it playing the holy grail Carnegie Hall?
A.C. - Carnegie hall is an amazing place. I've had the opportunity to play it 5 times. I'm coming up to my 6th time. It's really my 7th because I was in a choir one time. It will be my 6th time to be a headliner at Carnegie Hall
A.C. - Yes, we'll be there on December 10th performing "The Magic of Christmas" with the New York Tenors. We'll have special guest Jim Labriola, who will be our comedian. He used to be in a show called "Home Improvement" with Tim Allen. His character on television was Benny in the hardware store. He's had quite a career. We'll have our New York Tenors orchestra which is called "The Big Apple Orchestra". It should be a great time.
R.V.B. - I'm a little confused talking with you... being a Massapequa guy, I'm not really hearing a Lawn Guyland accent?
A.C. - (Haha) I guess because I've worked internationally for so long... you meet entertainers and people on television... I didn't want to be one of those guys that were like "Hey, how u doin?"
R.V.B. (Hahaha) You mean you didn't hang out with Joey Buttafuoco?
A.C. - I do have a New York accent but it's not pronounced. (Haha) I have a television accent where you don't know where people are from. Although with the New York Tenors show my New York accent comes out because we're selling New York. What's great about the New York Tenors is we can bring New York to any city in the world. We're all New Yorkers celebrating our great city and the great music... Broadway, opera, and our ethnic backround's. New York has all of that.
R.V.B. - You've worked with Jimmy Sturr on occasion?
A.C. - I have, Jimmy is a great guy and a good friend. Jimmy and I have done a bunch of stuff together.
R.V.B. - He spoke very highly of you. Well it seems that you are grabbing the torch from the Irish community and running with it. It looks like you're staying very busy which is good. Congratulations and good luck with the rest of the year.
A.C. - Thanks Rob.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Andy Cooney visit his website www.andycooney.com
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