Michael McDermott bares his soul in ‘Stories’

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The comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan have plagued him since the onset.

For Chicago singer-songwriter-guitarist Michael McDermott, it’s been a quarter-century blessing and a curse.

“It drove me crazy when I was younger,” McDermott said with a chuckle during a recent phone conversation.“Iwish after 25 years it wouldn’t still have to be, ‘you sound like Springsteen.’ I studied all those guys, sure…. The comparisons to me and Springsteen’s first album drove me to grow my hair long and do drugs. [Laughs] It doesn’t bother me any more. I’m gonna be Keith Richards now.”

MICHAEL MCDERMOTT: MISCHIEF AND MISTLETOE With special guest: Heather Horton When: Dec. 21-23 Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph Tickets: $25-$30 Info: citywinery.com/chicago

Comparisons be damned, McDermott worked hard to develop his own sound, getting his start playing Chicago’s coffee houses, bars and clubs all those years ago. He garnered a devoted following who connected with the intimate lyrics and the soulful strains of Americana, folk rock and blues that permeated hissongs. Toan even greater extent, McDermott developed a robustfollowing in the pubs and clubs of Ireland, England, the Netherlands, France, and especially Italy, where in 2009, he married the love of his life (and frequent background singer/duet partner) Heather Horton. They are parents to 5-year-old daughter Willie.

But grand-scale fame, the kind that gets you arena tours and Grammys and the usual entourage of hangers-on has eluded the 46-year-old singer. But that’s all in how you perceive fame, he said.

“I know when people ask me, ‘Why aren’t you more famous?’, they mean it well,” McDermott said. “Why wasn’t I more exposed as an artist? I don’t know, man. I have great fans here. I go to other countries and it’s amazing. But I’m doing great. It’s just different now. The dream of playing the United Center may not be anymore, but three nights at City Winery is f—–g great!”

The three nights he’s referring to are his upcoming gig at the near West Side venue, where he, Horton and their band will present “Mischief and Mistletoe: A Christmas Show,” the singer’s annual homage to the holidays and his own catalog.

“It started three years ago,” he said, citing “Silent Night,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and Joni Mitchell’s “River” among his favorite Christmas songs. “We have Victorian carolers so it’s a very ‘back in time’ vibe. The first night is an all-acoustic, all-request show. The next two nights, because the people have spoken: ‘We want to dance at a Michael McDermott Show!’, we do a 25-year greatest hits/retrospective of my music. But all three nights will definitely be a little Christmas-y.”

That 25 years now includes McDermott’s latest band, The Westies, (the name borrowed from the ruthless Irish gangwho ruled New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in the 1960s and ’70s, and depicted in TJ English’s best-selling book “The Westies: Inside New York’s Irish Mob”).

The band’s first album, “West Side Stories,” is, dare I say it, very Springsteen-ish, awash with McDermott’s rough-edged vocals and passionate, honest lyrics that tell tales of pain, sorrow, and even hope. The songs, haunting and poetic, are stripped bare (acoustic guitar is the order of the day) and written from what McDermott says he “knows.” His past has been tumultuous to say the least; his early fame wentcrashing down amid the usual trappings of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Even jail. He slowly emerged from all of it (he’s been sober, again, for two years now).

“The topics [on ‘West Side Stories’] are painful, but I write what I know, what I come from. A lot of that was painful and even ugly. There’s stuff that messes you up inside, and you learn from it. You write from that place. … Every Christmas Eve I watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ by myself. I look back at my life as if I had never been born. … I love it all, even the darkness. You can’t have light if you don’t recognize the darkness. Sometimes I can’t believe I made it out alive. … Today I’m in a much better place. I’m not going back.”

Note: Michael McDermott’s next album will be a solo effort, scheduled for release in April 2016.

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