New England bluegrass and traditional country music stalwart Allan ‘Mac’ McHale passed away last night (November 11) in Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine, following a heart attack.
Allan F. McHale was born in May 11, 1932 in Bangor, Maine, where he was raised. He was influenced at an early age by the live country music of Gene Hooper, Hal Lone Pine and Smiling Bill Waters on WLBZ and WABI in Bangor.
He started playing banjo at age 18. McHale was multi-talented, playing guitar and mandolin as well as the banjo. He sang in each of the bands with which he has performed.
From 1965 to 1968 he led The Larkin Hill Singers in a Hootenanny Show that toured Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Then from 1969 to 1971 he played mandolin and sang tenor with the Nonesuch River Singers performing throughout New England.
In 1972 he joined the White Mountain Bluegrass Band in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, playing mandolin and handling bookings and business affairs.
He started the Northeast Winds band in 1978 which became New England’s most popular traditional Irish music group. They recorded five albums, two videos and did many TV and PBS specials.
He moved to Kennebunkport in 1978 after playing in the area and taking a liking to it.
For about 25 years, McHale headed ‘Mac’ McHale & the Old Time Radio Gang, performing vintage American bluegrass and country music. The veteran ensemble has 11 recordings to its credit, with releases on the Folk Era Records, Lamon Records and Fishtraks labels.
They specialized in rousing renditions of the classic melodies from a time in American history when popular music told “the stories from our hearts.” Their sound is reminiscent of the purely acoustic live radio broadcasts and grange hall appearances that were hallmarks of the 1930s and 1940s.
From 2006 the band performed as the Radio Gang, until 2011 when Mac retired from touring actively.
McHale also played and recorded with Emery Hutchins, a co-founder of Northeast Winds, as Two Old Friends, and in another duo, Taylor’s Grove, with Carolyn Hutton.
John Roc, the mandolin player with the Old Time Radio gang for 15 years, shared these thoughts,
“This past Saturday Mac was playing a show, and stopped it early as he was feeling poorly. He was taken to a regional hospital, and then on to a heart center where an emergency cauterization was performed. Complications developed quickly and he went into full arrest on the table. Efforts at resuscitation were unsuccessful.
Mac was an icon of old time country and bluegrass music, and he truly loved playing and singing for people. He was a member of the IBMA Pioneers of Bluegrass Music, and the Maine Country Music Association Hall of Fame.
His true love was music – he didn’t think or talk about much of anything else. He was a bulldozer, never stopping for a minute.”
Roc also mentioned that Mac really appreciated being able to perform at nursing and convalescent centers for older folks. He got a kick out of bringing them back to their younger days with the music they grew up on.
Rest in Peace, Mac McHale.