Michael Troy
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Michael Troy

Marion, Massachusetts, United States

Marion, Massachusetts, United States
Solo Folk

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Thursday, January 4, 2007
By Sean McCarthy

Michael Troy is an area treasure. So when the popular folk singer was stricken with cancer – not once, but twice – there was a great outpouring of support from the local community about which he so often sings.

When Troy was receiving treatment for lymphoma at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in August 2005, the donations poured in from family, friends and other musicians. Coffeehouses and venues from Rhode Island to Boston held fund raisers. Bob Gould, owner of Café Arpeggio in Fall River and New Bedford, named an ice cream after Michael with all of the proceeds going to a bank account Gould had established while Troy was in the hospital. When Troy’s first tests came back negative, prominent Boston folk radio station WUMB-FM announced the good news over the air.

In this time of struggle Michael Troy was learning how much he means to the many people who love his music.

“The support we received was a silver lining on a very dark cloud,” says Troy’s wife, Mary Lou Manuels. “I sent out more than 80 thank you cards.”

At age 54, Troy required a stem-cell bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy to treat a relapse from a bout of lymphoma he originally had in 1998. The treatments are done without donors and there is no rejection. He was in the hospital for three weeks.

“His music and writing touched a lot of people, and consequently they turned around and helped our family in a time of need,” says 25-year old Sarah Manuels, one of Troy’s four daughters. His other daughters are Rachel, Rebecca and Hannah. His wife Mary Lou has worked as a nurse at the Catholic Memorial Home in Fall River for 30 years.

“I was humbled by all the support I received,” Troy says. “Folk music is a small genre but what they have done for me is mind boggling. They gave me what I needed to keep going. I’ve got a great family and a great fan base.”

Since he began to get serious about becoming a performer at age 47, Troy has done what it takes to make himself heard. He began making weekly trips to the esteemed Club Passim in Cambridge to showcase his songs on Open Mic nights. The club eventually rewarded Michael with better billings, including a show with the legendary Bill Stains. Troy would go on to share billings with Janis Ian and Richie Havens.

Troy was about to become a national figure in folk music circles, leaving behind demanding jobs in mills, and on fishing boats, as well as working as a carpenter and a laborer. His work was so demanding on his hands that he often could not play guitar.

“I never thought I’d be doing this as a career,” he says. “I was always a back-porch picker, someone who played for his own enjoyment. But I eventually realized that if you want to get recognized you have to write and perform your own music.

And so he did. In 1998 he put together a collection of songs known as “Whispers in the Wind.” That was followed by “Romancing the Moon” in 2004.

Troy’s touring has extended as far as Florida and Texas. He will be making a special appearance at the Narrows Center for the Arts on Saturday, January 6 with John Botelho opening.

“I love the Narrows. It’s my hometown,” Troy says. “They do great things for artists. The ambiance of that room is incredible. They’ve got a good stage and a great sound system.”

For Troy, the greatest part about being a musician is the performance.

“Performing is the icing on the cake,” he says. “It takes a long time to put the music together with the lyrics. With me, I want the lyrics and the music to suit each other. I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, but I’ve learned that performing is one of the best highs you can ever get.

And it is Troy’s musical skill and compelling lyrics that have made him so popular.

“I write about people I know from this city. In my travels I’ve made connections with people. There are mill towns all around the country, so my songs can elicit people to have the same emotions even if they are based in a different city.

“The things I have to say are important to me. I don’t like playing in bars, I’d rather play to listening audiences.”

Troy talks about the importance of being genuine in song writing.

“If you’re try to be honest and you let it come from your heart you’ll learn a lot about yourself,” he says. “A lot of things can come out of you when you write a song.”

One thing Troy isn’t writing about are his life-threatening cancer experiences.

“I don’t try to write about something I’m trying to forget,” he says.

One of Troy’s songs can be heard on a CD entitled, “I’m Too Young For This,” a compilation of songs by 21 young adult musicians who have been diagnosed with cancer. Troy’s song is “The Love Song,” a number he wrote for his wife that appears on “Romancing the Moon.” “I’m Too Young For This” can be bought through the website www.stepsforliving.org.

Troy’s music can be bought at shows or through CD Baby.

And as serious as he is about his - The Fall River Spirit, Fall River MA


By JAMES REED, Standard-Times correspondent

Michael Troy was what he calls a "front-porch finger picker" long before he recorded his first album and won local songwriting contests. At 13, he taught himself to play guitar, later went to school for computer technology and considered music a pastime.

But he was full of stories -- ones about growing up in Fall River, about his friends who worked in the city's mills, about what really happened to Lizzie Borden.

In 1998, he became an earnest singer-songwriter, penned an album's worth of songs, performed at Boston's Club Passim and opened for folk luminary Bill Staines. Oh, and Bill Morrissey, one of New England's premier troubadours, is already a big fan. He told Mr. Troy that himself, after a fan had passed along a copy of Mr. Troy's album, "Whispers in the Wind."

If this sounds like it could be the introduction to the story of any promising musician, consider that in just five years, Mr. Troy has crafted a repertoire that is regional in its themes and yet universal in scope. Although he's far too sheepish to admit it, he makes music that exalts and preserves his hometown and its people, a Woody Guthrie for the SouthCoast, if you will.

"You write about what you know; it's truthful," he said last week at his home in Somerset. "I have great compassion for Fall River. I left at 19 for California for a year, and I soon learned that people from Fall River are the salt of the earth. They embrace each other."

Mr. Troy himself has certainly been embraced by his community.

His music is played on radio stations across the region, he performs regularly all over New England, and last year he won the 10th Annual Performing Songwriter Competition sponsored by the Rose Garden Coffeehouse in Mansfield. That victory has secured him a spot at this year's Summerfest in New Bedford, as well as prestige.

Saturday night he plays in Fall River at the Unitarian Church's Coffee House 309, at 309 N. Main St. The show begins at 8 p.m., and general admission is $8 and $5 for students, seniors and children under 12.

Mr. Troy is a man who is not readily comfortable talking about what he does. He'll amicably dodge the question of age, but he's the father of four teen-age daughters. He is certainly pleasant and hospitable, offering you coffee as soon as you enter his house, but you get the feeling he'd rather perform his music instead of analyze it.

When he's standing in his kitchen trying to explain a song about the tragic story of a friend who killed himself, he searches silently for the words and then stumbles over them.

"I think I can do this better if I just sing it," he says. The notion of truth comes up often when you talk to him. He is inspired by "affairs of the heart" and believes in making elemental music; the folk idiom is a natural outlet for his talent.

"Folk music is the root of what's going on. I like to uncover some secret emotion that we'd rather keep down," he said. "Hidden things are hurtful things, but I think when you put light on them, there's healing in it."

So far he's made little money doing this, but he's fine with that. He's astay-at-home dad to his daughters and claims his wife of 22 years, Mary Lou, as his biggest fan, even though she occasionally has a bone to pick with his material.

"She said to me, 'How come you write all these songs about your buddies and not one for me?' So I'm working on a song for her."

As a songwriter, Mr. Troy is a well-versed chronicler of Fall River's history. For the song "Lizzie," he researched historical documents to assert that Ms. Borden did, in fact, commit the murders. He sings in the chorus, "Revenge would feed a hungry heart that fatal day." He even used a photo of the Lizzie Borden house for the cover of his album.

Because his music tends to focus on themes such as fishing and mills, one would wonder how it is received outside coastal communities.

"I was in Texas last year, and it does well," he said. "I was in song circles at Kerrville (a renowned folk festival), and people like it."

It's easy to see why. On songs such as "Fishboat," he relies on his own experiences, cleverly shifting from third-person voice to first to relay the story of fishermen. "Stevie's Song" is a touching account of boyhood friendship and what later happened to it. On "Charley Pike," you get an idea of Mr. Troy's attitude toward fame. He sings, "I don't get to go too far/I don't get to be a star/All I want to do is play."

His voice sounds like a lived-in house: comfortable and easy. Its weathered tones complement his seamless guitar picking, which is reminiscient of the fluid strumming that marked early 1960s folk. It could easily be Phil Ochs or Joan Baez accompanying him.

Mr. Troy is back in the studio these days, hoping to record a sophomore album that is as honest and scaled-down as his debut.

"We're trying to make sure it's stripped down and true to what I want to say. That's what musi - New Bedford Standard-Times


Man, it's bleak out there, isn't it? A possible war in Iraq and Osama's alive, plotting new ways to maul our fellow countrymen. The 401Ks are decimated. The economy stinks like a 2-month-old unchanged Kitty Litter box. The Republicans are in charge of Congress and, to top it all off, the Uke restaurant in the city's South End closed down (I know it's been awhile, but I just found out, OK? And damn, was I hungry).

There is reason, however, for optimism in the form of a great Fall-River-boy-doing-quite-well story. It's a tale of hard work, persistence, overcoming apathy in a town mired in a "can't-do" spirit and stunning talent, a sign that all is not quite lost. It's a story of a local folk singer/songwriter who performs under the name of Michael Troy.

I've written about Michael before. He's a 50ish Fall River native who's been a jack-of-all-trades most of his life. Despite his current Somerset address, Michael's Fall River to the core. He's worked in the mills, toiled on a fishing boat, sanded floors and raised four daughters (with his wife's assistance, of course). While doing all this, he still managed to find time to fool around with the guitar, developing skills that would eventually make him the master picker and songwriter he is now.

He only started playing his songs - tunes about Lizzie Borden, working in the mills, raising a family, friends who have passed on, taking chances - a few years ago, when a soul-searching bout with lymphoma increased his drive to perform his music in public. He started playing open mics, making jaws drop from Fall River's Belmont Club to Cambridge's Club Passim. In 1998 he released "Whispers in the Wind", his first CD, a masterful effort featuring a minimalistic approach to acoustic guitar, gruff, Dylan-esque vocals and poetic sketches about Spindle City life.

"Before I got sick, I had just started playing out, mainly to get out there and hone the art of performing", said Troy. "I wanted to see if I was capable of doing it, I wanted to see how people would respond. After I got sick, I just figured, what the hell. Bowing to intimidation is foolish, you should never let it stop what you want to do."

It hasn't all been easy. Starting out, Michael wasn't sure how to get the word out about his music, and playing before noisy, alcohol-addled audiences (a necessary evil for most working musicians) is not his style. Despite the tenderness shown in songs like "Romancing the Moon" and "Lullaby", Michael has a definite Fall River temper and doesn't suffer fools well. In fact, at one gig a year or so ago at the St. James Irish Pub, I was sure some sort of violence was to ensue when some inebriated Gen Xer, blessed with all the charm and intelligence of a speed bump, heckled him, demanding he play Kurt Cobain tunes, of all things.

"I tend to be pretty serious about my own music, and when you play in front of an audience at a bar, they're not interested in that", he said. "They want to hear cover music, what's on the radio. I want to play for people who want to hear new, original music, for people who are looking for a challenge".

One Fall River resident was so moved by just such a challenge that she immediately offered her talents to help promote his work. Marilyn Edge, who serves as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Narrows Center for the Arts downtown, has since aided Michael with photo shoots, booking and creating his just-completed Web site (www.folkmichaeltroy.com).

"I did it because he is a nice guy, just enormously talented, and I knew he needed the help", said Edge, who admitted "Romancing the Moon", a Troy tune rife with bittersweet Fall River references, reduced her to tears. "I would really like to see him become a nationally known artist because he deserves it, he's worked a long time to get this far. In all the time I've worked with him, I've never heard him say a bad word about anyone. That, to me, is his most annoying quality", she adds laughing. "That bugs the hell out of me".

Despite the occasional not-so-spectacular gig, the venues on Michael's performance list have gotten better, and more and more people are attending them. On Friday, November 22nd, Michael will play his most impressive gig yet, opening for the legendary Woodstock folk singer, Richie Havens, at the Narrows Center for the Arts. It's the Narrows Center's biggest concert to date, and if all goes will, it just might provide Troy with the exposure his creativity deserves. "I would've never dreamed that someday I'd be opening up for someone like Richie Havens", said Michael. "I never thought I'd have the nerve. I do feel a lot of satisfaction in getting to this point, I'm really grateful that things have moved along like this".

On Friday night, Michael Troy will perform one of the most important concerts of his career, showing that personal victories can be accomplished with the right amount of persistence, even in an era poisoned by uncertainty, grief and dread. "You just mov - Don Hammontree


Discography

Whispers in the Wind - 1998
Romancing the Moon - 2004
Mill Town Boy - 2009

Photos

Bio

Michael Troy was born and raised in Fall River, Mass. and his life reflects the lives of the hard-working people who populate this part of New England. He's had one wife, four daughters and a grandchild. For decades, making the rent came before making music. Then in 1998 while undergoing treatment for lymphoma, Michael came into his own as a songwriter. Before that, he'd been a textile worker in the sweatshops of Fall River, a laborer in Simi Valley, a fisherman out of Narragansett Bay and a floor finisher.

The names of Michael's employers seem quaint and picturesque, rooted in an industrial culture born a century before he was: the Stella Ann Frocks dress factory, The Ellie B clamboat that sank in January of 1999, a truss yard in California. The waves of 20th century urban decay and 21st century cultural renaissance have washed over Michael's experiences and folk balladry.

His life and his songs are saturated with history, social issues, and workingmen's philosophies along with the lessons of patience, tolerance and beauty that survival teaches. He is an adept picker, an astute observer and an acute emotional antenna.

For one whose songs are so jam packed with imagery, allusion and poetry, Michael Troy is a rather shy guy, not too chatty. Though he admits to being a spiritual person, he's hard put to explain his songs. "I dunno. It's just in there."

Michael has won numerous awards for his music:

WINNER: 2010 Kerrville Grassy Hill New Folk Contest
http://www.kerrville-music.com/newfolk.htm

WINNER: 2007 New England Songwriting Contest
http://www.ossipeevalley.com

WINNER: 2006 Wildflower Folk Festival Songwriter's Contest
(http://www.magmusic.com)

WINNER: 2005 South Florida Folk Festival Songwriter's Contest
(http://www.southfloridafolkfest.com)

WINNER: 2004 Boston Folk Festival Songwriter's Contest
(http://www.bostonfolkfestival.com)

WINNER: 2004 Founders Title Folk & Bluegrass Festival Songwriter's Contest;
(http://www.foundersfestival.org)

2004 Kerrville Folk Festival New Song Contest; finalist
(http://www.kerrville-music.com)

2004 Woody Guthrie Songwriter's Contest; 2nd place winner
(http://www.woodyguthrie.com)

2004 Chris Austin Songwriter's Contest @ Merlefest; 2nd place winner
(http://www.merlefest.org)

2003 USA Songwriter's Contest; folk category finalist
(http://www.songwriting.net)

2003 Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference; formal showcase
(http://www.nefolk.org)

2003 Winterfolk II Festival; emerging artist showcase
(http://www.winterfolk.com)

2003 FalconRidge Folk Festival; emerging artist showcase
(http://www.falconridgefolk.com)

2003 Southwestern Regional Folk Alliance Conference; emerging artist showcase
(http://www.swfolk.org)


Michael's lyrics have also been used in a book called "The Sea's Bitter Harvest" by Douglas A. Campbell.