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The Boston-born son of Irish immigrants, Joe Derrane is ranked among the finest button accordionists in the history of Celtic music. Although he recorded a series of Irish tunes on 78 rpm in the 1940s and '50s, he disappeared from the traditional music circuit until performing at the Irish Folk Festival at Wolf Trap Farm Park for Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia in 1994. The performance followed the release of Irish Accordion, reprising 16 tracks that Derrane recorded as a teenager. Since his return, Derrane has recorded three albums — Give Us Another, in 1995, with accompaniment by Irish pianist Felix Dolan, and Return to Inis Mor, in 1996, which featured pianist Carl Hession of Moving Cloud and a string quartet. The title track, one of four original tunes on the album, referred to Derrane's ancestral home on an island in Galway Bay. The Tie That Binds, released in 1998, featured Derrane playing a new 23-key, two-row button accordion that he helped design, plus accompaniment by Frankie Gavin, Zan McLeod, Seamus Egan and Jerry O'Sullivan.
The oldest of three brothers, Derrane grew up in a musical home. His father played accordion and melodeon and his mother played violin. A daily listener of Irish radio station broadcasts in Boston, Derrane became so enchanted by the playing of Jerry O'Brien, a melodeonist who had played with Joe O'Leary's Irish Minstrels, that his parents sought O'Brien out to instruct their son. Derrane began lessons with O'Brien at the age of ten and continued to study under him for two years, playing the single-row accordion for five years. At the age of fifteen, Derrane studied piano accordion and learned to read music; he became a fanatic of Brooklyn-born diatonic acordionist John J. Kimmel, "The Irish Dutchman," and learned to play much of his repertoire.
During his senior year at Mission High School in Roxbury, Derrane recorded 16 solo tracks with pianist Johnny Connor. In 1948 and 1949, he recorded ten duets with O'Brien, his former teacher. Although he lived in New York for two years (1952 and 1953), he returned to Boston and became a regular performer on the ballroom dance circuit. During the late 1940s and early '50s, he performed with such bands as Johnny Powell's Irish Dance Band, the Stars of Erin, the Galway Bay Band, the Irish All-Stars and the All-Star Ceili Band.
After studying harmonics and arranging at the Schillinger House (later the Berklee College of Music) for six months, Derrane performed with numerous bands that specialized in Jewish and Italian music.