Born in Tralee, County Kerry, Mike is youngest of ten children; six sisters and three brothers. The O'Callaghan boys are all musicians and the girls were trained as step-dancers. As a child in Ireland, Mike remembers being influenced by Buddy Rich, an American jazz drummer.
At the age of 9 Mike started playing drums with the Christian Brothers School band and by age 12 he was playing full-time with a country band called "The Country Hillsiders". In just a few years Mike found himself playing with some of the best musicians in Tralee in a band called Derry Kennedy and the Mellowtones, a seven piece Dixeyland band. From this time on Mike would always put his music first and despite the success of some of these bands he often needed a second job to help pay the bills. whether he was driving a truck or working as a carpenter Mike would drop it all to play with a promising new band and the hope of making music full-time. After the Mellowtones, Mike played with The Sean O'Dowd Showband from County Limerick and travelled the four provinces.
While still living in Tralee, Mike and good friend Francie Conway decided to put together a rock band called "Clutch". This band played the rock circuit in Ireland and made a serious attempt at original music as well as cover songs. While a force in the Munster music scene "Clutch" had the good fortune to play at the Rose of Tralee festival with the likes of Christy Moore, The Wolfe Tones, The Dubliners, Brendan Grace & The Furey Brothers. Mike recalls, "we even did a gig in the Dublin area with an up and coming band called U2". After Clutch members went their separate ways Mike continued playing with bands such as "Dan Paddy Andy" and "Rock Street". He eventually grew restless with the music scene at home and decided to follow his brothers to America where the irish music scene was exploding with popularity in the 1980s.
Once in Boston, Mike quickly hooked up with fellow countrymen John Conners & Martin Battle in a group called "the Irish Express" They travelled all around the US with regular stops in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, San Fransisco and Philadelphia. Mike points out, "It's ironic that I found myself playing more traditional Irish music once I left Ireland while back at home american rock & country music was all the rage" Mike eventually moved to Philadelphia in 1986, but continued to tour with the Irish Express until 1989 when he broke his wrist in a car accident and was unable to play for almost a year. "That's when I decided not to travel and play with local bands in the Philadelphia area." says Mike "There was plenty of work in and around Philly so I decided to stay put for a while and test the water." In 1990 he was playing with an oldies band, NightShift, when Paul Moore called saying blackthorn was looking for a drummer. "I enjoyed the variety of stuff blackthorn was looking to perform says Mike. "Playing just one style can get a bit old, but we were trying a wide variety of contemporary covers." Mike also saw the potential for this group to eventually write and perform their own material and found that interesting. He says, "Doing originals was always my goal with any band I was ever in." Before long he was working with Blackthorn every weekend now that he wasnt constantly driving across the country. Mike admits, "One of the best parts of being in Blackthorn is the fun we have together on and off stage. "We enjoy the music and the friendship equally and I think that comes across naturally on stage."
O'Callaghan is looking forward to the release of the new, all original, CD. "I think there is a lot of excellent stuff on the CD. My favorite is called "Not in My Backyard." "It's not really an Irish-sounding song, but it has a strong beat and I think it sounds cool." Mike feels the originals reflect the band's diversity. "There is such a mixture of different types of music on this CD, some rock, some reels, a ballad. Mike feels that blackthorn has shown talent and ability with other peoples music over the years and that it's time to strike out on their own. To take it to the next level if possible. "We've worked hard to make this album original and still have the Blackthorn sound. I really believe we've done that."
By: Anne Oliver