To this day, George Millar is mystified by the Irish Rovers' lifespan. Three months shy of the sextet's 40th anniversary, he can only guess at the reasons for its longevity. Perhaps it's because their rousing "Wasn't That a Party?" is a jukebox staple in nearly every shot-and-beer joint from Dublin to Duluth. Or that their two-hour stage show resembles the raucous revelry of a traditional Irish pub. But to Millar, it all boils down to camaraderie.
"You have to like each other," says the band's lead vocalist and guitarist. "To be this long in the business, you have to forget about the monetary things. Look at the Eagles. I can't stand watching them. I love their songs, yet they don't even look at each other onstage. They hate each other!"
Millar is devoted to his folksy roots, which were planted in Toronto in June of '63. At 16, he had just migrated from Northern Ireland. At a party one night, he met 23-year-old Jim Ferguson, a fellow Irishman, who discovered that they both knew the same jigs and reels from their homeland. They jammed together until dawn and decided to take their good cheer to San Francisco.
In 1965, the pair had recruited Millar's cousin Joe and three other longtime pals, and hit it big the following year with their signature song, "The Unicorn." The Rovers charted again in 1980 with "Wasn't That a Party?" before Ferguson's death in 1997. For Millar, the repertoire remains timeless. "But we don't have to wear spandex and look like Mick Jagger and be 110 pounds," he argues. "The hair can go back, and the belly can creep out. It doesn't matter over the music."
He points to their stage show, which is filled with so much hand-clapping and foot-stomping that it's "the fastest two hours around," he says. "We don't curse and swear, and we won't have any malfunctions on our costumes."