November 15, 2012

Feature obituary: Allan 'Mac' McHale, 80, well-known Maine musician

By Melanie Creamer mcreamer@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK – Allan "Mac" McHale, a well-known guitarist and singer who played with Northeast Winds, The Radio Gang, Taylor's Grove and numerous other bands, died unexpectedly on Sunday. He was 80.

click image to enlarge

Allan "Mac" McHale

Contributed photo

PASSAGES

Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.

McHale, who was known for playing a blend of Americana, bluegrass and old-time country music, was a frequent performer at music venues across Maine. His last performance was on Saturday at the Bangor Grange Hall, which happens to be where his music career began.

Less than 24 hours after performing "Orange Blossom Special," he died of heart failure at Eastern Maine Medical Center.

McHale grew up in Bangor. He learned to play the banjo as a teenager, and later picked up the guitar and mandolin.

Offstage, McHale balanced his passion for music with a career in sales. He worked for Carnation Foods, then landed an advertising sales job with 3M in 1960. He worked for the company for over 25 years.

Though he became a successful sales executive, McHale never lost his passion for playing music.

According to his obituary, McHale toured with The Larkin Hill Singers from 1965 to 1968; and played mandolin and sang with the Nonesuch River Singers from 1969 to 1971.

McHale formed Northeast Winds in 1978 with longtime friends Emery Hutchins and Paula McHugh.

The band played traditional Irish music to large crowds in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

"It was a really great experience. We got to play in places we never dreamed of playing," Hutchins said in an interview on Wednesday. "Mac was a consummate professional and a consummate performer. He was just wonderful on stage. He knew how to get an audience's attention and he did."

The band lasted for 18 years. In 1986, McHale formed The Old Time Radio Gang, which performed country music from the 1930s and '40s.

He was also the lead singer for the country band The Radio Gang.

Dana Pearson, a longtime friend, said McHale was a regular at the Kennebunkport Folk Club's song swap. He showed up monthly with his mandolin and guitar. Sometimes Pearson played with him.

"I loved his music," he said. "As far as Americana-roots music goes, he was probably the best at playing it. There will be a huge void in the music world with him gone."

In 2003, McHale reconnected with Hutchins and created the duo Two Old Friends. They traveled throughout New England, playing a mix of Irish and American country music.

Hutchins said that through the years, McHale was a mentor and inspiration to many local musicians, including himself.

"He was a real rock a stabilizing force in a lot of our lives," Hutchins said. "When a person like him is taken away, it leaves a big void."

In 2009, McHale joined Taylor's Grove, a bluegrass and gospel duo featuring Carolyn Hutton of Madbury, N.H.

On Saturday, the last day he performed, McHale suffered a heart attack. On Sunday, doctors performed a cardiac catheterization, but he did not survive the procedure.

He is survived by two children and two grandchildren, all of Portland. 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com

 

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