Sean grew up with music all around him. Both of his parents were music lovers, introducing him to a wide variety of performers from the 60s and 70s. They were also both musical themselves - his mom majoring in music for awhile in college, and his dad playing piano and guitar around the house.
Sean has vivid memories of laying under the baby grand piano listening to his dad's improvisations and learning to love John Prine at an early age from hearing his dad's versions of "Paradise" and "Hello In There" on the guitar.
Sean's first instrument was the piano. As many kids do, he banged out his favorite songs (including "Heart and Soul" and "Boogie Woogie") over and over until everyone else was surely sick of them. By the time he was in 3rd or 4th grade he enjoyed putting on the headphones and playing along with Cat Stevens (who knows what that sounded like to the rest of the world?!).
The summer of his thirteenth year he learned to play the guitar from his dad with the help of a John Prine songbook. His dad also realized he could sing harmony and helped him explore that ability. The next year he got his first steel-string guitar, an old Epiphone that belonged to his grandpa McCollough. Sean's daughter Julia is now learning to play on that same guitar.
During that same time, Sean moved from Michigan to middle Tennessee with his mother. There he was introduced to the old-time music of fiddler Frazier Moss through family friends Chris and Dale Ballinger (of Clusterplucker and Ballinger Family Band fame).
His musical education continued in junior high and high school when he became friends with classmate Doug Derryberry (now in the Bruce Hornsby and Sesame Street bands). He and Doug began playing together, cutting their teeth on the guitar styles and harmony singing of Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills & Nash. They spent a period of time in high school performing with friend Sean Morgan, exploring the psychedelic musical territory of bands such as the Grateful Dead and King Crimson. Sean and Doug then formed a rock band called the Imposers with friend Joey Pegram and recorded an album released on cassette called Party Favors that included original songs by all three members.
In college Sean performed at open mics and had a few solo gigs here and there. He formed a band with college friends Shane Sanders and Peter Franklin that unfortunately never made it out of the basement. He also discovered the power of singing topical songs and began performing at anti-apartheid and other rallies on campus.
After college he began working as a grassroots community organizer at Save Our Cumberland Mountains (now called Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment) and continued singing and writing topical songs about coal mining and other issues.
In the early 1990s, Sean went back to school to study ethnomusicology (the study of music and culture) at the University of Tennessee. He focused his studies on music from the Appalachian region and learned to play mandolin and clawhammer banjo while participating in the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Program.
During this period, Sean worked as the concert manager at the Laurel Theater and also began playing music professionally. Some of his first gigs were playing for kids at schools through a program at Jubilee Community Arts. He also began playing solo for adults and released a self-titled album of original material (no longer available).
After graduating with a Masters in Musicology, Sean began teaching adjunct at a number of colleges, until, over the years, he became a full-time instructor at the University of Tennessee where he still teaches Music of Appalachia, The History of Rock and the Introduction to Classical Music.
In the early 2000s Sean also began playing music with Steph Gunnoe. They played originally as a duo and then joined forces with Maria Williams (bass) and formed The Lonetones. The Lonetones recorded their debut album, Useful in 2004 and added Phil Pollard on drums. Over the years the band has also included Steve Corrigan on drums, Lissa McLeod on keyboards, and Cecilia Blair Miller on cello. They have released three more albums including their most recent Modern Victims.
In 2008 Sean met John Myers and began performing informally with him. He soon became John's bandleader and rediscovered his love of the piano as John's keyboard player. He also plays a little banjo and guitar in the band. In early 2010 Sean produced and recorded an album for John entitled I Ain't Goin' Nowhere.
In 2008 Sean also was recruited to play mandolin in the band for the Carpet Bag Theater play Between a Ballad and a Blues about the life of Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong. It was no coincidence that Sean was already a big fan of Louie Bluie and his musical cohorts, Carl Martin and Ted Bogan (often teaching about them in his UT classes). But it was surprising to learn that that John Myers' wife, Pamela is Carl Martin's niece.
In 2010 Sean recorded a full-length studio album for children and families entitled This Is Our House. The album features original and traditional tunes performed by Sean along with some of Knoxville's finest musicians.
In early 2011 Sean was asked by WDVX-FM to host a radio show for children. So, every Saturday morning from 9-10 AM you can hear Sean on Kidstuff.
Sean still enjoys performing for children, teaching at UT, and playing in various bands. He wonders what's next around the bend.