Former Sheiks vocalist O’Hara performing in LaPlace

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LAPLACE — Four-time Grammy nominee and two-time American Award nominee Michael O’Hara is coming to LaPlace.

Locals might remember O’Hara as the founder, lead singer and vocalist of The Sheiks, or for his many achievements co-writing songs for legendary recording artists.

O’Hara will perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 3 at Fatty’s at 509 Main St. in LaPlace.

“I’ve been writing songs since I was 6 years old when my mother and father bought a piano,” O’Hara said. “As soon as they unwrapped it, it was like meeting an old friend. Within two weeks, God graced me with being able to play piano, and I never looked back.”

He began singing and playing piano for his parent’s Baptist church, then around 15 got “wild” and starting playing in rock bands.

The Sheiks were created with a group of other musicians. Originally from St. Louis, they moved to New Orleans in 1979. The band has been the opening act for The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Police, Chaka Kahn and many others.

“It started as a spoon river band,” O’Hara said. “Then we evolved into The Sheiks. It was with Rob Sanders on drums, Nick Ferber on bass and Leslie Martian was the guitar player. I was the keyboardist. I wrote all the music and I was the lead singer. The music I wrote for The Sheiks was a grab bag of all the gospel and songs of the day with a hard rock and roll edge.”

While in New Orleans, the band performed at the 1986 New Orleans World’s Fair for the entire nine months the fair was hosted.

The band also played a lot of shows in the LaPlace area; it was like their second hub, O’Hara said. The band used to play at local nightclub Mox Nix before it closed.

After some time with the band, O’Hara left and moved to Los Angeles, writing for MCA/Universal Publishing. While with the publishing company, O’Hara co-wrote songs with the late Sammi McKinney.

The two wrote No. 1 hit songs for Anita Baker, “Just Because” and “It’s Ben You All The Time.” “Just Because” was the No.1 song for six weeks on the billboard chart worldwide, according to O’Hara.

O’Hara said he was just sitting at his piano when the melody came to him. They wrote the song in an hour and a half. McKinney and O’Hara also wrote for Patti LaBelle, Jody Watley and The Perry Sisters.

O’Hara also worked with Judy Collins and preformed with her on stage at Carnegie Hall for three consecutive nights.

“It takes a certain nerve to get up in front of people,” O’Hara said. “The very building of Carnegie Hall, the stage and everything has vibes there of legendary people who have been on that stage. You not only bring you ‘A’ game, you are also very humbled by your surroundings.”

After leaving the publishing world, O’Hara decided to retire. But with years of encouragement from a friend, he started making music again.

He went to Nashville and worked with writer and producer Robert White Johnson. At first the two were working on O’Hara’s first solo album, but it turned into a musical play called “Isle of Dreams,” which is based on the life and times of John the Revelator, who walked with the “Messiah” and wrote the last book of the bible, the book of Revelations.

Isle of Dreams has been performed twice in front of the New York Theatre Guild, at the St. Louis’ legendary Powell Symphony Hall and four years on Branson theater stages.

Currently, O’Hara is a minister in Fort Worth, Texas, where he sings to medical facilities for the aged. He also pastors a church on Sundays.

It has been over 30 years since O’Hara has performed for the people of the River Parishes.

He will host a meet and greet at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 3 at Fatty’s. The performance starts at 8 p.m.

— By Raquel Derganz Baker