Different name, same Catonsville love

Growing up in Catonsville's Paradise neighborhood, Brian O'Doherty dreamed about becoming a musician and moving to California.

Now that he's a successful songwriter based in Los Angeles, O'Doherty, known in the music world as Dillon O'Brian, says, "I've been dreaming about being back home."


Yesterday, O'Brian came home for a brief concert in a shopping center parking lot - and for a snowball.

With Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. proclaiming it "Dillon O'Brian Day," and with the musician's former piano teacher in attendance, O'Brian played "Fearless Love," a song he wrote that is featured in the film Sideways.


On acoustic guitar, O'Brian also performed an Irish song, "The Homes of Donegal," which he improvised to add the phrase "the homes of Catonsville."

"To be received like this is an amazing thing," the 46-year-old Catonsville native told the small crowd, including his mother and one of his childhood pals, Baltimore County Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, who represents the area.

Smith said O'Brian was an "excellent example of why Catonsville is known as Music City, USA."

With several music stores on Frederick Road, including Bill's House of Music, where O'Brian bought his first amplifier, Catonsville boosters advertise the town's musical roots on road signs and T-shirts.

O'Brian, who is the uncle of Smith aide Damian O'Doherty, grew up on Paradise Avenue near the sharp curve where the road meets Maiden Choice Lane. He graduated from Mount St. Joseph High School in 1978 and attended Towson State University, studying jazz piano.

Through middle school and high school, O'Brian studied piano, down the street from his home, with Virginia Reinecke, a Fulbright scholar and Peabody Conservatory graduate, who has been teaching for more than 50 years.

"He was very musical and very thoughtful," said Reinecke, adding that his philosophical conversations always entertained her when he stopped to visit over the years.

O'Brian, one of seven children, recalls being exposed to classical, pop, Irish ballads and show tunes between his parents and siblings.


"Our house was full of music," said O'Brian.

He performed with a local country music band, Billy Kemp and the Paradise Pickers, including several times on a hay tractor during Catonsville Fourth of July parades.

O'Brian left college to tour with the band. He opened for Tracy Chapman, worked as studio musician and released several albums. But he ended up making his mark as a songwriter.

He's penned songs for artists as diverse as Brian Wilson, Mariah Carey, Trisha Yearwood, Ringo Starr, Bonnie Raitt, Amy Grant, the Neville Brothers and the Temptations.

Producers from RCA Records persuaded him to change his name.

"No one at the record company could pronounce O'Doherty for some reason," he said, adding that his stage name is a combination of his 16-year-old son's first name, Dillon, and Brian, his given name.


In recent years, O'Brian has written theme songs for the NBC comedies The Office and My Name is Earl and is working on a screenplay. He also is developing a sitcom based on the life of his songwriting partner, Bob Thiele Jr., whose father was a famous jazz producer.

The leap from songwriting to screenplays wasn't a big stretch, he says.

"They say a song is a three-minute movie," O'Brian said. "It has a beginning, middle and end."

True to roots, O'Brian says the first place he went upon arriving was one of Catonsville's snowball stands, the Tastee Zone.

"It's always the first stop," he said.