Nenagh Cllr Hughie McGrath speaks about sharing the stage with the late songwriting legend, John Prine
“He was one of a kind, you won’t see the likes of him again,” says Nenagh councillor Hughie McGrath as he remembers fondly sharing a stage with American songwriter John Prine, who passed away, aged 73 near his home in Nashville, from Covid-19 complications last week.
“Just a very unassuming fella despite all of his success,” says McGrath, explaining how he ended up playing a private gig in a small pub in Kinvara, Co. Galway over ten years ago alongside the music legend.
After finishing up work, McGrath says he received a call from Dublin musician Philip Donnelly who told him he needed a double bass player for a show that evening.
“I had played and recorded with Philip over the previous 18 months so I hopped into the jeep and collected a friend of mine, John O’Brien, on the way. I didn’t know who I would be playing with until I was nearly there otherwise I might have turned around,” he says.
Nestled in alongside six other musicians in the corner of the rural bar, McGrath explains how he provided double bass to several of Prine’s biggest hits, only stopping when the numbers for the local lotto needed to be called out.
“There was John, an American icon, being told he had to wait for the lotto to be read out until he could start playing again. Of course, he was an utter gentleman about it,” says McGrath.
Prine was a regular visitor to Ireland and had flown in ahead of a show at Dublin’s Point Depot that week. However as his bass player wasn’t due to fly until the following evening he called on his old friend Philip Donnelly to assemble a group of musicians for a warm up session.
“I remember he was concerned that the double bass would be affected while travelling on the plane which can happen with humidity and things so he asked would I mind loaning mine for his show the following night if needs be. I told him I would drive to Dublin and deliver it myself if he wanted.”
John Prine is regarded as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation, revered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash among others.
He was honoured with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year.