The Tribal Magic Of Tuatha Dea

From its beginning, from Gatlinburg, Tennessee-based band, Tuatha Dea, has embraced its Celtic heritage and meshed the traditional music of Scotland and Ireland with their own bold blend of mainstream rock, mountain drumming and Appalachian blues to produce a truly unique sound. Family patriarch, band co-founder/leader and Tennessee native Danny Mullikin says, “We’ve been celebrating that heritage for years and years. There’s a lot of [Irish and Scottish] festivals and games…I always liked the music…The mix of rock and Celtic music that’s been created over maybe the last 25 or 30 years—we were always fans of that. Actually, I met my wife at a Celtic festival.” Danny also mentions the Celtic origins of bluegrass music as an influence on the band’s sound.

A true “family band,” the group was conceived by Danny (percussion, guitar and vocals), his wife Rebecca (lead vocals and hand drums), his son Brandon Mullikin (lead guitar), and his daughter Tesea Dawson Mullikin (bass, keyboard and flute), the band organically evolved to include Rebecca’s sister Katherine Holman (lead vocals, hand drum and keyboard) and Katherine’s fiance Chris Bush (didgeridoo, native american flute, penny whistle, bagpipes and drums). Rounding out the lineup are Jeremiah Waldo on bass and Brett Maney on drums.

The band is known for its high-energy shows, and has captured their music on five records, to date, the latest being the just-released, 14-song Irish Eyes. “It’s got the Celtic flavor, but it’s got rock and Americana flavor too,” says Danny.

The band’s name is a shortened version of “Tuatha Dé Danann” (roughly translated from Gaelic as “children of the gods,” according to Danny), referring to the mythological race inhabiting Ireland before the arrival of the ancestors of the modern Irish—essentially the fairy folk. Like other artists with Gaelic names, they’ve had to deal with the problem of pronunciation. They say “tow-ATHA-dee-a”, despite that fact that the Gaelic is actually “TWO-a-dee-a.” “I will say, we don’t pronounce it correctly,” admits Danny. “We found out very early on that if we told people, ‘Hey, the band’s name is Tuatha Dea [pronounced properly], they would go online and look up “Two A Day”—and not find us. So, being here in the United States, we both anglicized it and went with phonics.

The Celtic mythology connection brought about a unique opportunity for the band when fantasy writer Alex Bledsoe based characters in his book Long Black Curl (in his Tales of the Tufa series) on the band. “We generated an entire album based on his books…That was a cool challenge, to try to create something musically and visually that someone else has imagined.”

Check out Tuatha Dea’s website here. Listen to the full interview here.

By Dan Walsh