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Singer Michael McDermott finds groove in coffee for a cause

Noted Chicago singer Michael McDermott with wife Heather Hortdaughter Ra(nicknamed Willie). McDermott has launched his own brcoffee benefit Feeding America.

Noted Chicago singer Michael McDermott with wife Heather Horton and daughter Rain (nicknamed Willie). McDermott has launched his own brand of coffee to benefit Feeding America. (Rich Hein~Sun-Times)

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Updated: May 1, 2011 12:17AM

Chicago singer-songwriter Michael McDermott is hands-on with his new coffee.

That’s because the java lends a hand to America’s hungry children.

McDermott, 42, has partnered with Feeding America to help serve 100,000 meals to hungry children this year. Every bag sold of McDermott-branded coffee feeds seven children, which is why it is $16 a bag. The fair trade coffee launched in mid-March.

Michael McDermott Legendary coffee is a blend of dark and light roasts, with a bitter spice and a hint of smoke. It’s as strong as a Max Weinberg drum roll.

The Sacred Ground blend, which will be available next month, is milder and a little more chocolatey.

Each blend is named for a McDermott song. “Sacred Ground” was a ballad on McDermott’s 1991 breakthrough album “620 W. Surf.”

“We’ve raised 11,000 meals so far,” McDermott said during a conversation over the coffee in his Edgewater apartment. “We did a soft launch at Schuba’s and sold enough bags to feed 480 children. I was driving home and got choked up. It was the best thing I’ve done in my life.”

The coffee is roasted at Rex Roasting Co. in Terre Haute, Ind., a division of the Clabber Girl baking powder company. Clabber Girl actually started by selling coffee in the 1850s.

McDermott knows roast master Chris Weber through Weber’s other gig as guitarist in the Bloomington, Ill.-based rock band Constant Velocity. Weber has been with Rex since 2009. That same year, he also was a semi-finalist in the United States Barista Championship.

“The coffee was constructed for Michael and for what he’s trying to accomplish with it,” Weber said. “Legendary is a blend of coffees from Central and South America and Indonesia. There’s a dark roast for the smoke, and the spice comes from the Indonesian coffee.”

McDermott drove to Terre Haute to participate in the roasting at the Rex laboratory. Weber gave McDermott a taste-test to determine what he liked.

“It’s like being in a darkroom,” McDermott said. “It’s a very involved process with the light. A little more of this bean, a little less of that.”

A picture of a tired, slumped over McDermott graces the cover of the Legendary bag. The portrait was taken in 2006 at the Celtic Crossing by the late Chicago photographer Niva Bringas.

McDermott and his singer-songwriter wife Heather Horton have an 8-month-old daughter Willie. Having a baby has turned him into a coffee drinker.

“I wasn’t before,” he said as Horton held the smiling baby. “But now, there’s been a lack of sleep.”

McDermott still is finding time to do a one-off Bruce Springsteen tribute show with Chicago guitarist Grant Tye, Clem “the Bassist” Hayes and others April 8 at Joe’s Bar, 940 W. Weed. The last show sold out.

“I don’t wear a headband or anything, but it’s lots of fun,” he said.

McDermott and Horton know Chicago is a good coffee town. The sun only shines about 50 percent of the time here.

McDermott and Horton have recorded a five-song EP in Nashville, and a new solo McDermott album is down the road. It is unclear whether McDermott will cover tunes such as the Peggy Lee hit “Black Coffee,” Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” or the Squeeze pop hit “Black Coffee in Bed.”

Michael McDermott Legendary coffee is available at and at Bellezza Gelato Caffe, 3637 N. Harlem, (773) 545-1239.

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