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Smokey Mountain Ramblers (1968-1975)

Photo Gallery - Band Lineups - Discography - Audio samples - Where Are They Now?

The Story

The story of the Smokey Mountain Ramblers started when Jerzy Kryzanowski (better known in Ireland as George Kaye) came to Ireland to busk, having spent time around the folk clubs of England. Instead, he found himself doing the pub scene and formed the Mitchell County Ramblers with Clive Collins. It was late 1967 and George had decided it might be time to go home when he was approached by Galway's Des Kelly of the famous Capitol Showband. Des saw the trend of country music coming to the showband scene before anyone else had a chance to react. George went home for a holiday at Christmas and returned to join a new type of band. Naming them the Smokey Mountain Ramblers,  Des wanted something totally different, not like Big Tom or Larry Cunningham (both of whom were more "country n' Irish").

The original lineup of the band included: George Kaye on fiddle, Dave Kearney (RIP) on guitar and Martin Johnson (RIP) on bass (both formerly of The Movement), Paul Kenny (RIP-drums), and John Cook (guitar and dobro). The band hit the road in early 1968 and soon released their first single, "Ballad of Amelia Earhart." Although the band garnered a lot of attention, their strong bluegrass influence did not catch on with dancers who were used to hearing the "country and Irish" music of Big Tom and Larry Cunningham. Early on, John Cook, who worked with Aer Lingus in his day job, found life on the road too demanding and decided to leave and was replaced by Lennie Power on guitar.   

As the band's single, Amelia Earhart was winding down, Des decided the band needed a vocal front man and to fill out the band's sound to more of a traditional showband lineup. In the October 19th, 1968 issue of Spotlight, a small article announced Pat Ely was joining the band as its new lead singer. Pat had previously been with the Savoy Swing 7. In fact, Pat, Tommy Higgins (keyboards) and Bernie Fallon (drums) had all been with the Savoy Swing Seven, who had recently dropped the Savoy off the name and had become simply the Swing Seven who were being managed by Eamonn Hughes. Paul Kenny (RIP-drums) went to the Cotton Mills Boys. Things were not going well for the Swing 7 when Des Kelly contacted the boys looking for musicians to round out the Smokeys.   

Shortly after the band expended to a seven piece they embarked on a month long tour of the US Military bases across Europe in March, 1969. At the same time, they released a new single which featured Pat entitled, The Little Folk. Pat's addition to the band paid off with immediate success the record made it to number 13 in the Irish charts. In April, the band appeared alongside American star Hank Locklin at the Danny Pearse Tribute Concert in Dublin. The country boom was in full swing and the Smokeys were one of the first bands to climb to the top of the new genre.

In November, 1969, the band had a scare when George Kaye collapsed on stage in Donegal. He was off the road and hospitalized for several weeks in Dublin, but thankfully was not seriously ill. During 1970, the band continued to consolidate its position as one of the top five country bands in Ireland, appearing on the cover of Spotlight magazine. The band also released its first album, The Smokeys, the same year. 

In August, 1970, the Smokeys were hit by its first serious lineup change when founding member George Kaye decided to return to England and left the band after about 2 1/2 years on the road. In a recent email, George reported that his reason for leaving the band was "burnout, we had played 64 gigs in a row and that did it for me." In an article in Spotlight, co-manager Johnny Kelly reported that George would be replaced with a sax player, giving the band more versatility in their music. A few weeks later, Johnny's brother Des Kelly responded to the crisis by announcing the Smokeys would be featuring two sax players in the future and would be featuring Cajun music in their updated programme. Joe McIntyre (Swingtime Aces and Johnny Flynn Band) and Tony Cannon replaced George and the band was now an eight piece.   

When George Kaye left the band and went to England, he formed a bluegrass group there called White Lightning in the Nottingham area with his brother, Thaddeus Krzyzanowski (RIP - guitar). In May, 1971, George was invited to return to Ireland to form an electric band and he returned with several group members including his brother, Thad, and Terry Foster (banjo). They formed a band called Real Country adding to their ranks Bernie Fallon, (who left the Smokeys and was replaced by Alfie Merrigan), Joe Murray (lead vocals and keyboards from the Firehouse), Vinnie Baker (guitar also from the Firehouse) and Shea Cribben (bass from the Riviera Showband which broke up a few months earlier).

An article in Spotlight dated October 7, 1971 reported that Eileen Reid, former lead singer with the Cadets was joining the band, which was going to drop the name Real Country and become the George Kaye Band featuring Eileen Reid. The move meant George's brother, Thad, would be dropped from the lineup which did not sit well with George and he opted not to play with the new outfit. In the end, Eileen formed a band called The 2nd Sound and George formed a four piece bluegrass band which played acoustic music. The band (pictured below) was George Kaye and the Bluegrass Roadshow. It featured George (fiddle), Thad (RIP - guitar), Bernie Fallon (RIP - string bass) and Terry Foster (banjo). 

Vinny Baker (RIP) wrote to tell us that 2nd Sound didn't last for more than two years, they released one single and eventually included Jimmy Day and Eileen Reid in its ranks for about a year. In the meantime, George realised Ireland was still not ready for bluegrass and returned to England yet again. 

Eventually George would return to Ireland to rejoin Pat Ely in the Rocky Tops. Thaddeus and Terry stayed in England, but sadly Thaddeus was killed in an airplane crash a few years later. Vinny left 2nd Sound in 1971 and Joe Murray joined the Smokeys before ending up with Margo's Country Folk

Meanwhile back at the Smokey's ranch, the months after George's departure would result in massive changes to the band's lineup. The Capitol, one of the top 60's showbands on the circuit were on their last legs. They had been struggling for a couple of years and as the summer season ended, the time came for them to fold. In an article in the November 4, 1971 issue of Spotlight, Des Kelly announced that three members of the Capitol would be joining the Smokeys: Bram McCarthy (RIP - trumpet), Tony O'Leary (vocals), and Mike Dalton (bass). They would be joining Pat Ely, Joe McIntyre (sax), Dave Kearney (RIP - guitar) and Alfie Merrigan (drums). Departing would be Tommy Higgins, Martin Johnson (RIP), and Tony Cannon. The revamped lineup of the band was pictured on Pascal Mooney's "London Calling" page in the November 18, 1971 issue of Spotlight. Dave Kearney left the band at this time as well.

Tony O'Leary had first come to national prominence when he sang in the 1970 National Song Contest which was won by Dana singing Ireland's first Eurovision winner, All Kinds of Everything. From there he had joined the Capitol as they wound down and then was picked to front the Smokeys. (After the break up of the Smokeys, he would go on to purchase and then front the Gallowglass Ceili Band.)   

The Rocky Tops

With the original members of the Smokeys scattered throughout Ireland, Mighty Avons' manager Charlie McBrien saw an opportunity and contacted Tommy Higgins to see if they could reunite the original band that had enjoyed so much success just a couple of years earlier. As Pat Ely was the only member remaining in the "new" Smokeys, and Tony O'Leary had joined (who could handle lead vocals as he had done with the Capitol), it seemed like a great idea and Pat agreed to reunite with his old band mates. 

The February 19, 1972 issue of Spotlight announced that the original Smokey Mountain Ramblers lineup had reformed. In one of the era's most unique stories, the band (which had been chopped and changed over the years) decided it was time to get back together, but as the Smokey's name was already in use, they decided to start a "new" band and used the Rocky Tops. Even though an article in the March 4th issue of Spotlight reported that the original lineup was back together with the exception of one member - Tony Cannon from Donegal on sax - this was incorrect as the original lineup had included drummer Paul Kenny who had left to join the Cotton Mill Boys and had been replaced by Bernie Fallon. Additionally, Lennie Power had decided not to join the new band. The Rocky Tops played their first date on St. Patrick's Day, 1972.  

The departure of Pat Ely left the Smokeys with Tony O'Leary as their lead singer and a band that was more Capitols than Smokeys. In the Spotlight issue of July 6, 1972, an article about the Smokeys reported their new lineup. The lead singer of the band was Tony O'Leary, who would eventually go on to front the Gallowglass. Also in the band at that time were Jimmy Murray (guitar), Joe Murray (keyboards), Bram McCarthy (RIP - trumpet), Alfie Merrigan (drums), Joe McIntyre (sax), and Mike Dalton (bass). There is some question here about Joe Murray's role as Vinny Baker told us Joe was with Real Country, but Spotlight reported he was with the Smokeys. After leaving the Smokeys in late 1971, by March of 1973 Lennie Power (RIP) was with the folk group Thatch, which also included future Miami guitarist, Des Flaherty.

Finally, a record attributed to the Smokeys featuring Anne, was released in 1975, although we are not sure of the lineup at that time. We will try to find out more.

In their short time together, the band released quite a few singles and had three Irish top ten hits: All I Have To Offer You Is Me (#9), Shores of Lough Bran (#5) and Any Tipperary Town (#10). As Pat was singing on all the "hits" it wasn't long before he garnered some attention, even though the band never quite achieved the same success as the Smokeys.   

In early 1974, Pat Ely was enticed away from the band by Tony Loughman (RIP) of the Top Rank Organisation and was asked to front a new band, the Storytellers. Frank O'Neill, who had been with Enniskillen's Skyrockets, was drafted in on lead vocals with the Rocky Tops and he brought in a guitarist he had played with previously as Dave Kearney (RIP) went with Pat to join the Storytellers.

For the Rocky Tops though, the writing was on the wall. By the end of the year, the Rocky Tops were no more, lasting just about two years. However, for the next thirty years, Pat Ely would continued to perform under the Rocky Tops banner using various lineups for gigs around the country and in England. This often included ex-Cottons guitarist, Francie Lenehan, who would also play with the Smokeys 2012 reunion lineup (see below).

Although short lived in comparison to other bands of the era, the Smokeys were one of the first hugely successful country bands to break on the showband circuit. Eventually bands like the Cotton Mill Boys, Ray Lynam's Hillbillies and Bill Ryan's Buckshot would carry the country mantel (non Country n' Irish) through the 70's and into the early 80's, but the Smokeys were one of the first.

Burning brightly for a few years, they often played 7 nights a weeks, which, according to Tommy Higgins, was one of the major reasons for their eventual downfall. "Even though we were all young men in our 20's, there was no way we could keep up the pace night after night and in the end, it took its toll on the band. In the end, we played 49 nights in a row and were facing a run of 40 more consecutive nights and at that point, something had to give" explained Tommy recently.            

My thanks to Tommy Higgins for his help in completing this story.

Smokeys 40th Reunion Tour - October 2012

Over 40 years after their successful run on the ballroom circuit, 2012 saw the Smokeys reunite for a tour of the Irish dance circuit. Featuring original members Pat Ely, George Kaye and Tommy Higgins, the band played a series of dates augmented by former country showband musicians. The new lineup included (left to right): Francie Lenehan (guitar - Cotton Mill Boys, Ranchers, among others), Tom Jamieson (not pictured-drums), Pat Ely (vocals), George Kaye (fiddle and vocals), Liam Gilmartin (acoustic guitar and vocals - Jargon, Ray Lynam Band), Tommy Higgins (keyboards) and Gerry Gallagher (bass and vocals - Magic Band and Kim Newport Band).     

 

 

Photo Gallery

click on thumbnails for full image

The Original Smokeys - 1968 Smokeys - 1969 Pat Ely - 1969 Smokeys - 1969 Smokey Mountain Ramblers - 1969
Smokeys - 1969 Smokeys (KS) Smokey Mountain Ramblers (DD) Smokeys - 1969 Smokeys - 1969
Smokeys - 1969 Smokeys - 1969 The Smokeys (KS) Smokeys - 1970 Smokeys - 1970
Pat Ely - 1970 Smokeys - 1970 Smokeys - 1970 Smokey Mountain Ramblers - 1970 (KS) Smokeys - 1970
Smokeys - 1970 Pat Ely - 1971 Smokeys - 1971 Bluegrass Roadshow - 1971 Smokeys - 1971
Pat Ely - 1971 Smokeys - 1971 Pat Ely - 1971 Smokeys - 1971 Smokeys - 1971
Smokeys - 1972 Smokeys - 1972 Smokeys - 1972 Smokeys - 1972 Smokeys - 1972
Smokeys (RF) Smokeys (RF) Smokeys (RF) Smokeys (RF) Smokeys (RF)
Smokeys (RF) Smokeys (RF) Smokeys (RF) Smokeys (RF) Smokeys (RF)
 
New Smokeys (RF) New Smokeys (RF) Smokeys - 1972 Smokeys - 2012 Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
ROCKY TOPS
Rocky Tops - 1973 Rocky Tops (LR) Rocky Tops - 1974 (LR) Pat Ely - 1973 Rocky Tops - 1972
Rocky Tops - 1972 Rocky Tops - 1972 Rocky Tops - 1972 Rocky Tops - 1972 Rocky Tops - 1972
Rocky Tops - 1972 Rocky Tops - 1972 Rocky Tops - 1972 Rocky Tops - 1972 Rocky Tops - 1972
       
Rocky Tops - 1974 Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon

Lineup Changes (More to come)
 

Years Vocals Guitar Bass Drums Fiddle/Sax Keyboards Guitar Sax/Trumpet
Smokey Mountain Ramblers: 1968-1975
Apr
1968
  Dave
Kearney
Martin
Johnson
Paul
Kenny
George
Kaye
  John
Cook
 
July
1968
  Dave
Kearney
Martin
Johnson
Paul
Kenny
George
Kaye
  Lennie
Power
 
Oct
1968
Pat
Ely
Dave
Kearney
Martin
Johnson
Bernie
Fallon
George
Kaye
Tommy
Higgins
Lennie
Power
 
Aug
1970
Pat
Ely
Dave
Kearney
Martin
Johnson
Bernie
Fallon
Joe (sax)
McIntyre
Tommy
Higgins
Lennie
Power
Tony
Cannon
May
1971
Pat
Ely
Dave
Kearney
Martin
Johnson
Alfie
Merrigan
Joe
McIntyre
Tommy
Higgins
Lennie
Power
Tony
Cannon
Nov
1971
Pat
Ely
Dave
Kearney
Mike
Dalton
Alfie
Merrigan
Joe
McIntyre
Joe
Murray
Tony
O'Leary
Bram
McCarthy
Nov
1971
Pat
Ely
Jimmy
Murray
Mike
Dalton
Alfie
Merrigan
Joe
McIntyre
Joe
Murray
Tony
O'Leary
Bram
McCarthy
Early
1972
Pat
Ely
Jimmy
Murray
Mike
Dalton
Alfie
Merrigan
Joe
McIntyre
Joe
Murray
Tony
O'Leary
Bram
McCarthy
May
1972
Tony
O'Leary
Jimmy
Murray
Mike
Dalton
Alfie
Merrigan
Joe
McIntyre
Joe
Murray
  Bram
McCarthy
1975
?
Anne? Jimmy
Murray?
Mike
Dalton?
Alfie
Merrigan?
Joe
McIntyre?
Joe
Murray?
  Bram
McCarthy?
Rocky Tops: 1972-1974
Feb
1972
Pat
Ely
Dave
Kearney
Martin
Johnson
Bernie
Fallon
George
Kaye
Tommy
Higgins
  Tony
Cannon
Nov
1974
Frank
O'Neill
Red
Unknown
Martin
Johnson
Bernie
Fallon
George
Kaye
Tommy
Higgins
  Tony
Cannon
Smokey Mountain Ramblers: 2012 Reunion Tour
Oct
2012
Pat
Ely
Francie
Lenehan
Gerry
Gallagher
Tom
Jamieson
George
Kaye
Tommy
Higgins
Liam
Gilmartin
 

Discography (partial listing)

Smokey Mountain Ramblers:

Ballad Of Amelia Earhart / Bile Them Cabbage Down (George Kaye)
Dolphin Records - DOS.5 - May, 1968
Little Folk / If You Were Mine (Pat Ely) - #13 Irish Charts
Dolphin Records - DOS.18 or 21 - January, 1969
I'll Remember Your Love In My Prayers (Pat Ely)
Dolphin Records - DOS.31 - May, 1969
Christmas Time's A-Comin' / Sajo (Pat Ely)
Dolphin Records - DOS.49 - November, 1969
But You Love Me Daddy (Pat Ely & Bernie Fallon) / Wreck of the Old No. 9 (Pat Ely) - #15 Irish Charts
Ruby Records - RUB.101 - March, 1970
Forty Miles from Poplar Bluff / Me and Bobby Magee (Pat Ely)
Ruby Records - RUB.108 - June, 1970
Bayou Teche / Cajun Baby (Martin Johnson)
Ruby Records - RUB.112 - October, 1970
Just Beyond The Moon / I'm Dreaming Tonight About Sweethearts (Pat Ely) - #8 Irish Charts
Ruby Records - RUB.117 - December, 1970
Fifteen Years Ago / I Wonder Where You Are Tonight / I Haven't Seen Mary in Years (Pat Ely)
Ruby Records - RUB.132 - May, 1971
Kathleen / Happy Street (Pat Ely) - #9 Irish Charts

Ruby Records - RUB.143 - 1971
The Pilgrim (Tony O'Leary) / Popping Corn (Dave Kearney)
Ruby Records - RUB.151 - 1972
Only Her Rivers Run Free (featuring Anne) / Daddy Dumpling
Release Records - RL.771 - May, 1975

Rocky Tops:

Faded Love / All I Have To Offer You Is Me
Release Records - RL 650 - January, 1972
Happy Heart - Cherokee Swing
Velvet Records - April, 1972
All I Have To Offer You Is Me - #9 Irish Charts
Release Records - October, 1972
The Last One To Touch Me (Pay Ely) - June Apple Jam (George Kaye)
Release Records - May, 1973
Rocky Top
Velvet Records - July, 1973
Shores of Lough Bran (Pat Ely) / Southern Dixie Flyer (George Kaye) - #5 Irish Charts
Release Records - RL 683 - August, 1973
Delta Dawn / Still On The Hill
Release Records - November, 1973
Any Tipperary Town - #10 Irish Charts
Release Records - September, 1974

Smokey Mountain Ramblers Reunion:

How The Years Have Flown
October, 2012

Audio Clips (click on photo or title to listen)

       
Ballad of Amelia Earhart Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon

Where Are They Now?  

Pat Ely: After the Smokeys, Pat formed the Rocky Tops and also for a time fronted the Storytellers, who would also boast Susan McCann as a lead vocalist at one time. Eventually, Pat went to work in the record industry, while continuing to play regularly with a smaller version of the Rocky Tops which often included Francie Lenehan of the Ranchers and Cotton Mill Boys. These days, Pat is retired after owning a record shop in Donegal Town. He still sings from time to time on the local scene and was a a part of the Smokeys 2012 reunion tour..   
Tommy Higgins: After leaving the Rocky Tops, Tommy opened a record store in Sligo, followed by a shop in Galway called Star Records. He eventually sold the stores and concentrated on his business as an agent for Ticketmaster. He eventually took over the running of Ticketmaster Europe, from which he recently retired.
He still lives in Rosses Point, Co. Sligo and was part of the 2012 reunion tour.
Bernie Fallon - RIP: After leaving the Smokeys originally, he played with George Kaye, ending up in George's Bluegrass Roadshow playing upright bass. With the demise of that band, he rejoined Pat Ely (along with George) in the newly formed Rocky Tops which brought together the original Smokey Mountain Ramblers again. In later years, he returned to his native Sligo where he played the pub scene for many years with local groups. He retired from performing in the 1980's and sadly passed away in 2008.   
Lennie Power - RIP: After leaving the Rocky Tops, Lennie spent some time with the folk group Thatch in the mid 70's. Sadly Lennie passed away in 1994.
Dave Kearney - RIP: After leaving the Smokeys/Rocky Tops, Dave spent a short time with the Sandie Jones Band before emigrating to Canada around 1980 where he lived until he sadly passed away on January 14, 2010.  
George Kaye: Despite rumours that he had passed away, George writes us to say he is still very much alive and living in Germany. He is currently playing with the band, The Permanent Cure, playing folk and bluegrass at venues around the Continent. He is a regular visitor back to Ireland and still does gigs whenever he is here. In October, 2012, George returned to Ireland to take part in the Smokey's Reunion tour.
Paul Kenny - RIP: Paul left the band to join the newly formed Cotton Mill Boys but tragically passed away only a few months later.
Martin Johnson - RIP: We received an email from Al Owens telling us that in the mid seventies, Martin moved to the UK where they met and around 1979 they formed the band Stagecoach with singer Billy Finnegan. Three years later Billy moved to Co. Armagh and started a new band and within a short time, Martin also came to Armagh and joined the band which they called Stagecoach again. After that Martin did solo and duo gigs around Dundalk but sadly passed away in October, 2002. Our thanks to Al for the update.
Joe McIntyre: Unknown - if you have info please email us
Tony Cannon: Unknown - if you have info please email us
Alfie Merrigan: Unknown - if you have info please email us
Mike Dalton: Unknown - if you have info please email us
Joe Murray: Our thanks to Seamus Smith who writes to tell us in late 2012 that Joe lives in Oldcastle, Co. Meath
and still plays in local pubs. If you know more - please email us
Tony O'Leary: Unknown - if you have info please email us
Bram McCarthy - RIP: Bram sadly passed away. If you have info please email us
Jimmy Murray: Unknown - if you have info please email us

 

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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006