John McDermott knows exactly where he got his butter-smooth tenor voice — his dad, Peter.
This was reinforced after his dad's 1995 death, when McDermott received a recording of his father singing in a pub in his native Scotland in the 1950s.
McDermott included the recording at the end of his 1995 album, “Love is a Voyage.” “He hits notes that I can't dream of getting to with the ease that he did,” he said. “It was beautiful.”
Although he'd had no formal musical training, he participated in family sing-alongs with his 11 brothers and sisters growing up, and often sang at weddings and hockey games as an adult.
McDermott, 59 — who lives north of Parry Sound, just down the road from Sudbury — began his career as a musician in 1992, when he was working in circulation at the Toronto Sun.
Newspaper tycoon Conrad Black heard him singing at a dinner party, and along with other executives, financed McDermott's first independent album, “Danny Boy,” which was picked up and released in North America by EMI Music Canada.
A celebrated musician with more than 30 albums to his name, McDermott said the best moment of his career was when his father saw him in concert in 1994.
“He did get to see that there is a chance I might be successful at this,” he said.
A little more than two decades after making show biz his full-time gig, McDermott is making a 20th anniversary tour across Ontario, which includes an Oct. 25 concert at Laurentian University's Fraser Auditorium.
McDermott — who lived in Scotland until he was 10 years old when his family emigrated to Toronto — unsurprisingly specializes in singing traditional Scottish and Irish tunes.
Inspired by his family history — his father was a Second World War tail-gunner, and his uncle died at a Japanese prison camp during the conflict — he also often sings about the First and Second World Wars.
“They reflect back onto a period of time that had very strong memories for some people — some bitter, some bittersweet, some really, really beautiful,” McDermott said.
“You can't always guarantee you're bringing back a fond memory for somebody, but you are certainly touching them emotionally. That's what you want the music to do.”
Although he most often does song covers, McDermott said he's started composing his own music in recent years. He even wrote a tune about his brother, Michael, who died after a battle with alcohol addiction.
“You know, we need to talk about stuff like that,” he said. “I'm not the only guy with an alcoholic brother who died of it.”
McDermott promises Sudbury fans hoping to hear their favourite tunes won't be disappointed during the 20-year retrospective concert.
He said one of his pet peeves is going to a concert to hear a performer's hits, and only hearing new material.
“In a show, if I don't do Danny Boy, they'll probably hang me,” he laughs.
McDermott said he enjoys engaging with the audience, a tendency he said he inherited from his father along with his voice.
“I'm just copying my old man when I'm on stage,” he said. “He would tell the history behind a song before he sang it.”
Tickets to the show, which starts at 7:30 p.m., cost $47.50 each. They're available at the Sudbury Theatre Centre box office by phone at 705-674-8381 or online at www.sudburytheatre.ca.