Late Saturday, November 8, one of Portumna Co.Galway's favorite sons, accordionist Joe Madden, suffered a bad fall on the stairs at home, severing his neck and spinal column according to an e-mail from his daughter Joanie. He underwent two difficult spine surgeries this past week to try and repair the vertebrae in his neck. Unfortunately the surgeries were unsuccessful and he passed away peacefully in his sleep on Friday, November 14, 2008, surrounded by his wife, Helen, and their seven children.
Madden, with the skilled hands of a carpenter and a driven personality, oozed perspiration as he played, as if producing tunes that literally propel people to seek timber turf for dancing were as much hard work as much of the laboring he has done to support his large family which includes daughter Joanie, one of the brightest lights in Irish music.
In his earlier years, Madden put together an orchestra for many of the Irish society dances that played all sorts of music for the dancers’ pleasure, but he excelled when it came to traditional music for the sets, the reel thing. The Clare clubs especially loved his music for their dances.
He also was part of an exceptional group of Galway musicians who kept the New York City traditional music scene going, along with the Coen Brothers (Jack and Father Charlie), Pete Kelly, Martin Mulhaire, Mike Rafferty and the late Sean McGlynn. They offered so much inspiration and encouragement to the musicians who are flying the banner now. Wherever the music unfolded, Joe was often the first to sit down -- and last to get up -- and play tunes with anyone and everyone who wanted.
Among the many other accolades he has received, Joe Madden was inducted into the CCE MidAtlantic Regional Hall of Fame in 1992. He would be followed in that honor 15 years later by his daughter Joanie.
In recent years, Madden was usually referred to as the daughter’s father whose music and stubborn adherence to tempo and tunes—along with all the other father figures like Mike Rafferty, Mattie Connolly and the late Jim Coogan— has been a huge influence on the Cherish the Ladies canon of tunes.
A frequent guest at very special concerts of Cherish The Ladies -- including at the White House -- he recently appeared with them at Symphony Space for the Mercy Center benefit last month. Some also had the pleasure of listening to Madden two weeks ago holding court in Joanie Madden’s fabulous music room, fashioned in part by the old man, who expanded the kitchen upward and outward and also found just the right piano to fit a corner of stylish room.
The setting for a “kitchen session”, like their old days in nearby Woodlawn, may have been updated, but watching Madden square off against John Nolan, the first Irish American to win the senior All-Ireland accordion championship, was music for the ages, played in that timeless fashion for the love of it.
Joe's hard-core, straight forward allegiance to playing Irish music on the box the way it was passed onto him has inspired so many musicians in his own generation and afterwards. We wouldn’t have the solid traditional music scene in New York City without his mighty contribution.