More than two decades ago in his native County Kerry, Ireland, Patie O’Sullivan spent his summers singing at local pubs and hotels. Although traditional Irish songs and standards made up much of his repertoire, it was an American classic, the Kris Kristofferson-penned “Me and Bobby McGee,” that sent the Irish musician on a voyage to America.
Following months of working as a carpenter in London, O’Sullivan was back in his hometown, Inchees West, when he and his brother decided to go to a pub one evening in August 1989.
“Normally, after work, we say, ?Well, we’ll go for a pint of Guinness somewhere,’ “ the singer, guitarist and accordion player recalled.
The brothers’ choice for a town with a pub was either Waterville or Cahirciveen. O’Sullivan picked Waterville, a coastal resort town on the Atlantic Ocean known for its fishing and celebrity-attracting golf course.
As happens in Irish pubs, O’Sullivan joined the band at The Lobster Pub that night for a song.
“Over here in the U.S., musicians do their gig and nobody in the audience sings,” he explained. “Well, a typical Irish pub, when I was playing, the musicians were doing the music but they weren’t considered successful if they didn’t get the audience involved. It’s not a good session if you don’t get the people singing along. You rarely get that here but, I tell you, it’s way better fun.”
So that fateful evening at The Lobster Pub, O’Sullivan sang “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song that begins with the line, “Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train.” All the while, he couldn’t help but notice that a stranger had entered the pub.
“I got off the stage and she came up to me and said, ?I’m from Baton Rouge,’ “ O’Sullivan recalled. “I said, ?I didn’t even know Baton Rouge existed.’ I thought it was fiction in a song. What did I know about Baton Rouge? But the rest is history.”
Indeed, despite the distance, time and travel involved in an international romance, O’Sullivan and his American girlfriend from Baton Rouge, Ginny, married in a year’s time. The couple lived in Houston for 18 months before moving to Baton Rouge.
South Louisiana’s hot climate compelled O’Sullivan, a man accustomed to cooler places, to change professions. He got a teaching degree and is a high-school woodworking teacher at Tara High School. He continued playing music for a while, especially around St. Patrick’s Day, but eventually found he could not juggle teaching by day and playing music by night.
“I put a hiatus on it,” he said.
It took a poem that spoke lovingly of home to bring O’Sullivan back to music. The late Abe Huggard, a fellow Kerry man who owned a Waterville hotel where O’Sullivan had often performed, offered his poem, “Waterville You Call Me,” to the singer-guitarist in hopes he’d make it a song.
O’Sullivan composed music to the verse with the help of his son, Patrick. He also decided to make a proper, full-length CD.
“And Ginny just said to me, ?If you are making a CD, why don’t you make the Waterville song the main focus?’ A fantastic idea.”
O’Sullivan recorded his 14-song Waterville You Call Me CD at musician and sound engineer Randy Walsh’s local studio. Walsh also produced a lovely music video for the title track.
“It was local musician Garrett McCutchan who introduced me to Randy Walsh and that was the best thing that ever happened,” O’Sullivan said. “This guy can play anything. He’s a great engineer and a cinematographer. I’ve never met anything like him.
“A lot of the songs that I did for the CD are Irish-type folk songs, but Randy put a new spin on them,” O’Sullivan added. “He made it sound Irish and he put something extra into it as well. He captures the essence of every song.”
Gonzales-based singer-songwriter Jodi James also contributes harmony vocals to the CD.
“Man, she made it,” O’Sullivan said of James. “You’ll hear more of Jodi James, mark my words. She’s a beautiful singer.”
Waterville You Call Me has received radio play in County Kerry as well as Baton Rouge via Taylor Caffery’s Hootenanny Power, broadcast Saturdays at 9 p.m. on WRKF-FM.
“I’m delighted with the response it has got,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s getting a little traction.”
The CD is available by emailing email@example.com.