Waterloo-born songwriter-singer-guitarist Pat McLaughlin has had a brush with a legend a couple years back -- a legend in black.
"I got to play with Johnny Cash on quite a few recordings that haven't seen the light of day," said McLaughlin, a 1968 graduate of West High School who now lives near Nashville. "It was the last stuff that (American Recordings producer) Rick Rubin would have been involved in with Johnny."
Rubin produced a string of hot-selling and critically acclaimed albums with Cash in the final decade of his life, including the 1997 Grammy Award winner, "Unchained," after Cash had been dropped by Columbia Records. It restored Cash to his greatest period of creativity and popularity since the late 1960s.
The music press reported that a considerable amount of Cash's material with Rubin still has yet to be released. If and when it does, McLaughlin said, "I will get to be on a Johnny Cash CD."
Cash's determination was something to behold, McLaughlin indicated. "He was pretty ill by the time I got to doing it, and we worked right on through the death of June Carter," Cash's wife of 35 years. "Right up until then, and after then. It was just kind of amazing. A friend of mine was his good friend and engineer, and that's how I got the inside track on playing with him."
Cash died four months after Carter's death. Their love story is the subject of a current feature film, "Walk the Line."
"Johnny had health problems but he was still a force to be reckoned with. A lot of it was at his house. He was an extremely nice guy and a real pleasure to be around," McLaughlin said.
"We recorded 'North to Alaska' about 50 times. He (Cash) really liked Johnny Horton," McLaughlin said, laughing.
"Since then, I've done another Rick Rubin thing, and played on Neil Diamond's new record," the recently released "12 Songs."
In 2004, McLaughlin also played on two tracks of a tribute anthology album to Cash's country-legend in-laws, the Carter Family, including one track with Cash's daughter, Roseanne, and another with McLaughlin's personal favorite, John Prine.
Bonnie Raitt also has recorded a song McLaughlin wrote, "Souls Alike," on her new album.
"I'm not what you'd call a session guitar player. I haven't pushed that side of the business too hard," McLaughlin said. "I'm also a little choppy for that. I get some singing jobs, and I get calls to sing harmony a lot of times."
One song he penned for Gary Allan, "Songs About Rain," was a Top 10 country song last year. He's also written or co-written three songs with Prine on his new record, "Fair and Square."
McLaughlin traces his music career back to Waterloo, when he and chums, including Sam Holden, Denny Gibbs, Tim Scully and Paul Ferguson formed a popular local band called "The Fabulous Pawns."
"Our first gig was in Raymond in a bar and we were like in the eighth grade," McLaughlin said, laughing. "I remember at St. Ed's (Catholic Church) once, singing 'Norwegian Wood' (by The Beatles) in the basement of the church, not realizing the fairly risqué lyrics. They were suggestive -- not by today's standards."
He also recalls playing at fraternity parties at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "It was incredible," he said.
"We did a lot of Motown (soul) covers," McLaughlin said.
Though he spent his senior year at West, McLaughlin also attended Columbus High School through his junior year. His father, T.J. McLaughlin, co-founded Waterloo Corrugated Box Co. and was a major benefactor to Columbus. Inducted into the Columbus Hall of Fame in 1981, the elder McLaughlin died in 1995.
Asked his favorite memory of Waterloo, Pat McLaughlin said, "I think it was the graham cracker pie at Morg's. Morg's West," he said, when the popular downtown diner had a location on West Fourth Street. "Or, just watching my brother Mike enjoy that graham cracker pie. He ate more than me, but I ate my share."
Growing up on Fletcher Avenue across from Byrnes Park also is a favorite memory, as well as working with his dad on farm land he owned in the summertime, as well as for Arnold Reiter.
McLaughlin recalled that longtime Courier columnist Bill "The Iron Duke" Severin, a conservative before the phrase was even made popular, once wrote in the '60s of the Fabulous Pawns: "Short hair, good sound."
"Now, it'd be 'No hair, good sound,' " McLaughlin, now 55, laughed.
McLaughlin and his wife, Sally, a native of Kentucky, have two children, a son, Jaime, 6, and a daughter, Eliza, 5.
He has several solo albums. His most recent work, "Next 5 Miles," was self-released about two years ago.
"It's not too bad. It's nice to be in the music business," McLaughlin said, as he set the phone down to pay a contractor-friend for a siding job on his house.
But Pat McLaughlin has not forgotten where he came from.
"It always charges me up to have anything to do with Waterloo," he said, where he remains friends with many of his parents' contemporaries.
He has a Web site, www.patmclaughlin.com.
-- Pat Kinney, Courier Business Editor
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