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Vaughn man gives folk singer hand-carved seat

Greg Harkins stands with a hickory stool he made for folk singer John Prine Friday at the City Auditorium.(Sam Freeman The Vicksburg Post)

[5/24/04]Folk singer John Prine may not be ready for the rocking chair but he got the next best thing Friday night in Vicksburg.

Greg Harkins, who’s been listening to the now 57-year-old Prine for as long as he’s been carving rocking chairs about 30 years presented Prine with one of his hand-carved stools.

“I’m so tickled about this I could pop,” said Harkins, a Canton native. “He is a mentor of mine.”

He didn’t give Prine a rocking chair because Harkins wanted his favorite singer to be able to play the guitar while sitting on the stool.

Harkins almost missed the opportunity to give the stool, carved from hickory and worth about $350, to Prine. He and his daughter, along with a couple of friends, were belting out Prine songs and missed their Vicksburg exit and found themselves heading into Louisiana.

Luckily, they made it time to see the show at City Auditorium, which was expected to draw a crowd of more than 1,000.

Prine has written and recorded hits including “Angel from Montgomery,” “Paradise” and “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.”

But Harkins’ favorite song is “Please Don’t Bury Me.”

Harkins first saw Prine in concert about 30 years ago, at the same time he started carving chairs.

He’d graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in psychology, but met a friend who turned him on to making the chairs. The rest is history.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

And in the span of three decades, Harkins chairs have been presented to the past five presidents, entertainers including Willie Nelson, Mississippi-native Oprah Winfrey, George Burns and Bob Hope; and politicians including U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and Dan Quayle.

Former President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan have a two-seater from Harkin.

“I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t have pictures with circles and arrows on them with a paragraph on the back,” Harkins said. “It’s too preposterous.”

The experiences such as traveling to the White House and being in the Oval Office and the office of the vice president, the Executive Office, Harkins admits, are humbling.

“I’ve always been real fortunate to be at the right place at the right time,” Harkins said. “I know well now how to shoot from the hip.

“If the door is open, I’ve never been afraid to go in.”

Harkins’ shop, where he makes rocking chairs and other furniture, is about 20 miles north of Jackson in Vaughn.