Journos hit chord as ‘Irish Newsboys’

Kevin Fagan

Kevin Fagan

They may not all be Irish, newsies, even boys at all — but when the Irish Newsboys band hits its stride at Lefty O’Doul’s near Union Square — patrons can count on a rip-roaring Saturday night of rowdy folk music peppered with a bit of San Francisco-style rock.

“Most of these songs are about one of three themes: drinking, fighting or loving,” Kevin Fagan said in a recent interview. “Sometimes a song is about all three.” Fagan is a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who plays a mean guitar behind crusty lyrics.

Fagan described the band as “a bunch of newspaper types from The Chronicle, The (former) Oakland Tribune — and a few of our pals.”

“We’ve been featured as a fixture at Lefty’s — even in books,” Fagan said. “An autobiography by sci-fi legend Richard Lupoff noted he was a fan of ours. The Chron’s own J.K. Dineen, in his new book, ‘High Spirits: The Legacy Bars of San Francisco,’ mentioned us in his roundup of great SF watering holes.”

Besides appearing at Lefty’s, 333 Geary Blvd., every month or so, the Newsboys also play special events.

They’ve performed twice at San Francisco’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, onstage at City Hall, for hospital patients as well as for inmates at San Quentin and Folsom prisons.

The Newsboys “began with a chance encounter on a yacht on the bay during Fleet Week,” Jay Johnson, retired Chronicle editor, wrote on SFGate in 2014. “Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld (alias “Dr. Hip”) throws a party on his floating home, where I am introduced to the legendary rock musician Barry (“The Fish,” of Country Joe and the Fish) Melton, who, it turns out, is a fan of Irish folk music and has just returned from Ireland. ‘Do tell,’ says I, so he sings me one of the old ones, so I sing him one back. ’We have to rehearse,’ he says without irony.”

“Then,” Johnson continued, “Santa Claus dies (fired Macy’s employee who became the mascot of the holiday toy drive at Lefty’s). It is decided that Lefty’s will have an Irish wake for him and Barry, Chronicle scribe Kevin Fagan (who had played with Barry) and I are dragooned to sing at the event. We know the same songs, so it turns out OK.

“Somehow, Lefty’s decides we should return. Thus was born the Irish Newsboys, at the historic watering hole on Geary just off of Powell.”

“We’ve been doing this for a few years at Lefty’s — and they haven’t thrown us out yet,” Fagan said.

Individual band members have achieved other high notes aside from playing with the Newsboys. Fagan had a solo hit in Australia and radio-play internationally both solo and with another band. Peter Albin hired Janis Joplin into his Big Brother and the Holding Company band and still tours internationally with that group and with Melton.

Josh Zucker has played with Willie Nelson, Boz Scaggs and seemingly everyone else.

Catherine McSharry writes musicals.

The Irish Newsboys — in various venues, identities and times — are:

  • Barry “The Fish” Melton (1960s rock legend who played Woodstock with his Country Joe and The Fish—and continues to rock hard today with his Barry Melton Band)
  • Kevin “The Scribbler” Fagan
  • Jay “The Hat” Johnson
  • Robert “Pipes” Loomis (Oakland Tribune veteran on flute and other things)
  • Catherine “The Colleen” McSharry (playwright and linnet-voiced “Colleen”)
  • Steve “Hey Rube” Rubenstein (Chronicle reporter, on mouth harp and banjo)
  • Joshua “The Wizard” Zucker (Chronicle computer guru, on bass)
  • Ellen “The Facetious Flautist” Huet
  • Lee Houskeeper, press agent
  • Peter “Four Strings” Albin (Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Barry Melton Band)
  • Greta “The Bow” Kaul

Lefty O’Doul’s is a tourist favorite Irish pub — but the real deal nonetheless. “Always a lot of true Irish there,” Fagan said. “Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny came to our gig there a while back.”

Check Lefty’s website for scheduled Irish Newsboys gigs.