I recently woke up to the news that singer-songwriter John Prine had died of coronavirus. He had an underlying condition for years, as have most of the people who have been taken by it. The band that I play in have been playing John Prine’s music for years.
As I’m the drummer, I hadn’t a clue who wrote most of our songs, but John O’Connor, the singer, guitar, autoharp player and musicologist in the band educated me over time. He introduced me to the music of John Prine,Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Flaco Jiminez and many more that I would probably not have heard for many years without his intersession.
Occasionally, he sat in on our sessions with the Pheasant Pluckers in the bar
And as John O’Connor hung out a lot with John Prine’s good friend, guitarist Philip Donnelly, who lived nearby and called to McCarthy’s (my pub) for pints, there was always a chance that I would meet Mr Prine in person. Not long after Philip’s return from a very successful music career in Nashville, he got married and settled in Tipperary.
Occasionally, he sat in on our sessions with the Pheasant Pluckers in the bar. It was great to be joined by a man at the height of his powers, playing his style of guitar which was so unique. He had played with Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton, and many more.
Anyway, he and his wife were doing up their house and a Fethard building family, the Maher’s, got the contract. The builder’s son, Micheal, was having a pint after work one evening in McCarthy’s.
I was delighted and told him that I would tell the rest of the band and they might bring their instruments as well. A session might ensue
He told me that Philip was coming over here the following night to meet himself, his dad and a few of the lads working with them, and that he said that he would probably bring the guitar.
I was delighted and told him that I would tell the rest of the band and they might bring their instruments as well. A session might ensue. And casually Micheal said that Philip was bringing a friend. “Is he a musician?” I asked, knowing that Philip often had top musician friends as guests.
“I don’t think so,” said Micheal, “he’s a nice fellow though. He joins us for a pint every evening in the local bar before we head for home. His name is John. John Prine.”
The following night we were all awaiting the arrival. But the night was dragging on and they didn’t appear. A phonecall was made (pre-mobile phone era) and it was confirmed that they had left home and they were heading for McCarthy’s. But that was two hours ago and it was about half an hour’s drive.
They were on the way, but they decided to stop for a quick pint in Cashel
The night dragged on to closing time, and still no show. So we all went home disappointed.
We found out why on Monday. They were on the way, but they decided to stop for a quick pint in Cashel. Which turned into two. Which turned in to a session. So they got no further .They would come another time. And Philip did, many times to play gigs, or just for a meal or a pint. But John Prine was never with him again.
He was a bit flustered and as I passed him
A few years later, we went to see John Prine in University Concert Hall, Limerick. I made the mistake of having a pint before the gig. About an hour in, I had to go to the toilet. As I was leaving between songs, John Prine said: “I would like to invite my good friend Philip Donnolly to join me on stage.” But Philip wasn’t there.
As I left the theatre, he was racing toward me and somebody was telling him to hurry up. He was a bit flustered and as I passed him. He threw his eyes to heaven and said, “Bad timing for a toilet call”. I looked over and saw the remaining half of a fresh pint of Guinness sitting on the counter.
At least his delay meant that I would miss none of the concert. And together, with John’s band, they were sublime. A few months ago, Philip passed away. And a few weeks ago John Prine ventured that way too. I hope they are reunited in some other world.
Jasper Murphy is publican and undertaker from Fethard, Co Tipperary.