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Celtic Rock Drummer Cat Doersch: ‘That Is How I Measure Success…By What Brings Me Joy’

Celtic rock artist and educator Cat Doersch says one of the few things she has ever been so sure of is her lifelong love affair with the drums. Take a look at her passionate, riveting performances, where she becomes one with the instrument, and it becomes clear that they were made for each other.

Join contributing writer Cynthia Gross as she connects with Cat Doersch in recognition of Irish American Heritage Month and Women’s History Month. Learn Doersch’s favorite song to perform with The American Rogues, the most important lesson she learned in order to be successful as a female drummer, and the story behind her affectionate nickname, “Hammer of God.”

Cat 'Hammer of God' Doersch performing live - Photo courtesy of the artist
Cat 'Hammer of God' Doersch performing live - Photo courtesy of the artist

Cat Doersch discovered the drums in fourth grade, which prompted her grandfather, a former professional Dixieland musician, to retrieve his dusty old drums from the attic with pride. When asked why she gravitated to the drums specifically, Doersch replied, “I didn’t look at any other instrument. No other instrument existed. I don’t know why.”

“I remember I was at a Bob Fosse musical, and part of the musical was ‘Sing, Sing, Sing,’ so you can imagine this Bob Fosse choreography, which was amazing,” she reminisced on her early starts. “But then they also had on stage the performers” to accompany the piece for which drums served as the focal point. This mesmerizing experience sealed the deal for Doersch.

Drawing inspiration from an eclectic mix of legendary drummers, including Stewart Copeland, Bill Bruford, Neil Peart, and Larry Mullen (foreshadowing, it seems), Cat Doersch continued her studies throughout high school and later earned a degree in percussion performance from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.

Her entry into Celtic music came years later – and quite by chance. “It was so accidental falling in love with Celtic music,” said Doersch. “I do have Irish and Scottish heritage that I wasn’t too aware of, but once I discovered that, I was just blown away.”

Cat Doersch performing live - Photo courtesy of Photography by Dregs
Cat Doersch performing live - Photo courtesy of Photography by Dregs

After playing in in a variety of bands, supporting genres from jazz to rock, Doersch was hired in 2003 by Williamsburg, Virginia-based folk band Coyote Run, which was venturing into Celtic rock. “I dove head-first into this Celtic genre to educate myself on what is it and how do I fit in,” she shared.

During her time with Coyote Run, Doersch toured nationally and internationally, immersing herself in Celtic culture. She also met her future husband, David Doersch, who was the leader of the band, and after they married, the couple moved to Florida.

Cat Doersch soon developed a “stylized, physical performance” technique influenced by Taiko drumming that resonated widely with audiences. “It’s like martial arts and drumming combined,” said Doersch. “I started incorporating some of those movements – Celtic woman warrior style – and I would get hired for random shows just for that because it’s so powerful. You become the music.”

She took additional cues from Scottish musician Evelyn Glennie, a Polar Music Prize laureate. “She is an amazing percussionist, and she is completely deaf,” said Doersch. “And it was funny because she was coming in concert, and I wanted to go and see her, and a friend of mine had already seen her. And I said, ‘Oh, what is she like?’”

In response, Doersch’s friend gave her what remains one of the biggest compliments the artist has received to date: “She’s kind of like you. She doesn’t just play a note; she dances the notes,” referring to Doersch’s resemblance to Glennie.

Cat Doersch performing live - Photo courtesy of Photography by Dregs
Cat Doersch performing live - Photo courtesy of Photography by Dregs

When Coyote Run disbanded 8 years later, Cat Doersch realized that Celtic music had become part of her identity and “musical signature” as a drummer, and there was no going back. “I didn’t realize until years and years later – even after that band folded – and [Celtic music] is still my go-to,” she said. “Like when I’m just sitting at home listening to music, that’s my go-to. And suddenly, it really dawned on me one day, it’s because I love it. It’s not because it’s my job anymore.”

Doersch describes Celtic music as “simultaneously new and timeless,” and she notes, “the same can be said for drums – and the two are totally complementary. Take ancient Celtic melodies and primal, tribal drumming, then rock them into Celtic tunes with modern dance grooves. It’s a magical combination.”

After her Coyote Run stretch, Doersch joined Busch Gardens’ Riverdance-style show, “Celtic Fyre,” featuring world champion dancers and artists, and played bodhran, an Irish frame drum.  

One of her biggest artistic accomplishments was performing in another show at the theme park: “Dig It Up!,” a comedy, where Doersch played a cave woman of all things. “The intense physical comedy involved was the closest I had ever come to acting, and that was at twice the age of many of my castmates,” Doersch laughed.

Cat Doersch performs at Bush Gardens as a cave woman - Photo courtesy of Lynn Hales
Cat Doersch performs at Bush Gardens as a cave woman - Photo courtesy of Lynn Hales

In 2012, Cat Doersch was approached by The American Rogues who were in the market for a drummer, and after her Bush Gardens contract ended, she joined the award-winning Celtic rock ensemble that was based in Maryland at the time.

Doersch’s favorite song to perform with The American Rogues is “The Gael” from Last of the Mohicans, and she notes that her “Celtic woman warrior style” is a “perfect match” for the fan favorite. “This is such a powerful song played by such a powerful group, so it isn’t just played, it’s felt in the soul,” she explained. “When creating the drum part, I was challenged to create something as compelling as the music, so I turned to the most powerful style of drumming I knew: Taiko. This ancient style of drumming has the commanding energy, as well as the elegance, that suits a heavyweight piece of this gravitas.”

Cat Doersch’s electrifying stage presence has bestowed on her the nickname “Hammer of God.” When asked exactly where the name comes from, she laughed, “I wish I knew.” “Someone from the audience coined that term, and we thought it was hysterical.” And highly accurate as well.

In addition to The American Rogues, Doersch collaborates with her college music theory professor, Dr. Jennifer Barker, who now works at the University of Delaware. After her husband lost his job during COVID, Doersch partnered with him to resurrect Coyote Run under a new moniker: Eireann’s Call.

Doersch notes that the band name is inspired by one of her all-time favorite artists, Afro Celt Sound System, who fuse electronic music with traditional Gaelic and West African music. “One of their songs is called ‘Eireann,’ and that’s the Irish Gaelic term for Ireland,” she explained.

As an artist and educator, uplifting women is a passion for Cat Doersch, including in traditionally male-dominated spaces. “When I was growing up, there were women that really inspired me. I drew strength and power from them,” said Doersch, referring by name to Sigourney Weaver in “Alien” and Linda Hamilton in “Terminator.”

“That was required television in my house when the girls were young,” she laughed. “I was like, ‘I don’t care if you don’t like science fiction, I don’t care if you don’t like horror, you are going to watch these movies for these women. We had mixed results on that one.”

Doersch also nodded to trailblazers Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, and Sheila E. “These are women who have pulled me through over the years, and I look at that, and it’s like, ‘I can do it. Look at them, they’re doing it.’ I gain so much inspiration from watching powerful women. I can be on Instagram and see some 20-year-old that’s doing something amazing, and I love that. I just want to say, ‘you go girl, go us.’”

Perhaps most important to Cat Doersch’s longevity and staying power is her grounded view of what it means to be successful as an independent artist. “People define success as being rich and famous, and sure, that would be lovely,” she laughed. “But we musicians who are doing it on a day-to-day because we love it wrestle with that. It’s like, well, am I successful because I’m not rich and famous?”

These days, Cat Doersch knows the answer with certainty. She measures success not solely based on a monetary figure, but rather “by what brings me joy.”

Recently, Doersch and her husband moved to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, where she is taking time to reconnect with herself. She notes that the arrival at “joy” is a continuous work in progress that is tested daily.

“I had to redefine what brings me joy,” she noted, referring to transitions and new beginnings. Doersch recently landed a remote job that allows her to “work from home with her kitty cats,” “travel to visit her daughter in Miami,” “and most importantly, be near her drums always.”

Connect with Cat Doersch here, and stay tuned for what promises to be a refreshing season of adventure in the months ahead.

Cynthia Gross

Cynthia Gross is a freelance writer and award-winning spiritual pop artist based in Maryland. With more than a decade of experience as an executive ghostwriter, she understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.

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