One of the greatest and most distinctively individual performers of Irish fiddle music, this artist comes from a family musical line that involves both the Doherty and McConnell families, stretching back across many generations. This includes individuals who settled down in various Irish communities as well as those who were travelers all their lives, preferring life on the road. Some of Johnny Doherty's musical kin are Turloch MacSweeney as well as Doherty's grandfather Simon Doherty who played the fiddle, uilleann pipes, and highland pipes and his father Mickey Doherty, who may have been the one who passed along the love of fiddle. Mickey married the singer Mary McConnell, whose brothers Mickey and Alec McConnell were well-known fiddle players as well as fiddle builders. Johnny's brothers Mickey and Simon Doherty were also fiddle players.
Johnny Doherty began to play the fiddle in his teens and was vanquished to the barn for his practice sessions. When he would come back into the house, his father would demand a performance of a particular tune, and if it wasn't up to snuff, then it was back to the barn. The Scottish fiddler and composer James Scott Skinner was a big influence on Doherty's style through his recordings, but he often said in interviews that his favorite fiddler was always his father. For an early profession, Doherty chose the life of a traveling tinsmith, also known as a tinker. This involved wandering through rural Ireland on foot lugging a bag of tools for making pots, mugs, or buckets for locals. He didn't actually have to carry a fiddle with him, as back then there was sure to be one at any house that he stopped in at. Although he spent much of his life in his native Donegal county, he traveled to Dublin to compete in the Oireachtas Championships, capturing the fiddle category along with Aggie White of the Ballinakill Ceili Band, coming in second place. He also made it to Belfast to record for the BBC, the first large-scale music business contact to realize what a unique style he had developed. Over the years he basically absorbed and then discarded the influence of his father and his generation, ignored the new choppy-sounding rhythms coming in from some Irish and Scottish fiddlers, and created a style of working mostly with strokes of the bow that gave his playing a sound like no one else had. In his later years he worked as a house musician at a pub in Carrick, giving many a young upstart musicians the chance to try out alongside him. He wrote many of his own pieces, the most famous of which is "Planxty Reel." He was also widely involved in spreading various traditional pieces from one part of Ireland to another. UTV filmed a documentary about him entitled Fiddler on the Road."