For over forty years he has played guitar alongside the biggest Irish music stars, and has also been a successful songwriter, and even once represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The Sheerin family name is synonymous with music in the midlands and Kevin was the second youngest of ten siblings raised in Castledaly.
He has played steel, electric and acoustic guitar in Daniel O’Donnell’s band for more than a decade, and in recent years he has re-discovered his childhood interest in playing tin-whistle in the band.
“My dad played the whistle and that’s who I learned it from, and I went into competition, and won the All-Ireland Fleadh at U/14 level in Ennis, having come second in the previous year,” said Kevin.
“Shortly after that the whistle was left up on the shelf and I only brought it back out a while ago, when Daniel O’Donnell found out I could play it. He did a DVD in Nashville, and wanted to show a comparison between Irish music and bluegrass, so I played the whistle in the show.”
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 celli group, the Kieran Kelly band for around eighteen months. Kevin 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.
During that period the Hillbillies did some gigs and recorded some songs with country singer, Philomena Begley. One of those songs, ‘She Sang the Melody’ was written by Kevin and Ray Lynam and became a big hit in Ireland in the early 1980s.
“I don’t regard myself as much of a songwriter, but some of my songs have turned out well and successful, but still I’m not a natural songwriter,” he said.
Kevin is unassuming and totally modest, because one of his most popular songs, ‘In My Father’s House’, has been recorded by more than twenty artists including Daniel O’Donnell, (who has sung the song on a recent album), Foster and Allen, the Furey Brothers and Johnny Donegan.
“It was easy to write ‘Father’s House’ because it reminded me of music in our own house at home in Castledaly,” he said. “I wrote the songs on guitar, but I haven’t written a song for a few years now. I usually come up with a melody first, and get a line going, but I have no real method.”
Another successful song of Kevin’s was ‘Nancy Myles’, which he wrote when Tony Allen asked him for a song.
“It is an Irish flavour song, and Tony asked me one night, on a journey from Moate to Athlone to write a song,” said Kevin. “By the time I got home, I had a verse written, and by the time I went to bed I had three verses of ‘Nancy Myles’ written, but very few songs would come to me that quickly.”
Like most of Kevin’s songs, ‘Nancy Myles’ has a strong narrative. It was a hit for Foster and Allen, and then later for Johnny McEvoy.
Ray Lynam also recorded a successful song of Kevin’s called ‘Another Town’ in the late 70s, and the song was given great praise by the late DJ, Vincent Hanley on RTÉ Radio.
“Jimmy Smith, a great guitar player played a guitar solo on it, and Vincent was totally into that sustained guitar play,” said Kevin.
It was popular in the 1980s for Irish songwriters to attempt to write a song for the Eurovision contest, and in 1986, Kevin gave it a go, and wrote ‘You Can Count On Me’, and entered it in the contest.
“I never felt I was going to write for Eurovision but it was the thing to do at the time for the crack, so I got the idea for the song, and went with it,” he said. “A good friend of mine, Billy Burgoyne recommended the group ‘Luvbug’, to sing the song, and we were up against the likes of Johnny Logan, who had written a song for Linda Martin, and the songwriter Brendan Graham, who won years later with ‘Rock and Roll Kids’, and Maxi also was an entrant. They were all successful people in different ways.”
‘Luvbug’ was a group, made up five musicians from Newry, Co. Down, and the lead singer, June Cunningham and the rest of the band members, displayed the big hair and colourful suits of the 1980s, and comfortably won the National Song Contest with ‘You Can Count on Me’. They went on to represent Ireland with Kevin’s song at the Eurovision Song Contest that year in Bergen, Norway. They ended the night in fourth place out of twenty countries, and the song peaked in Ireland’s top five. Luvbug are still performing today throughout Ireland and the UK.
Kevin was still a musician with Ray Lynam and the Hillbillies when he travelled to Bergen with Luvbug for the 1986 Eurovision Song Contest. He wasn’t disappointed with losing the contest, but humorously tells that he didn’t get a great welcome when he returned to Ireland.
“Twenty years before us, Dickie Rock came 4th in the Eurovision, and a big crowd met him at the airport, but there was nobody to meet me at the airport in 1986,” said Kevin, laughing.
Kevin did a lot of touring with Ray Lynam’s bands throughout Ireland and England, and one tour of America, which included an appearance on a television show in Nashville, with other Irish singers, Dermot O’Brien and Larry Cunningham.
He played 17 years with the Lynam bands, and then travelled seven years with Jimmy Buckley’s band.
“The difference with the time when I played with Ray’s band, compared to now is that people that go dancing now, don’t go to drink, they just go to dance, where back in the 70s, drink was a part of it,” said Kevin. “People don’t go out to drink now, they go out to dance, and if you want to drink, you have to have a driver with you.”
Kevin plays numerous venues these days internationally with Daniel O’Donnell’s band. He is just back from playing in Branson, Missouri, USA and has previously played in Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, the Ryman Auditorium, and in the Sydney Opera House.
“I prefer live performance, and I don’t do much studio work, except doing a bit with Daniel, and he has played really big crowds, and fills theatres everywhere he plays,” he said.
“The band get on well together, and the audiences like the Irish flavour songs. But generally we play middle of the road songs, although Daniel mixes it up with other music.”
In the 1990s, Kevin played guitar at mass along with a choir each Sunday morning at Athlone RTC.
“Everybody loved Elvis, but my favourite pop group would have been Abba, and my favourite country singer would have been Merle Haggard,” he said.
Kevin is married to his wife Mary, who comes from Co. Clare, and the couple have five grown-up children, David, Susan, Barry, Cormac and Anita, and five grandchildren