Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 10 October 1946, Maywood IL; d 7 April 2020 of Covid-19) Singer-songwriter, perhaps the best-loved of his generation. Began on guitar at 14; spent some childhood time in Kentucky, where his grandparents came from (the song 'Paradise' is about strip mining). He sang in Chicago clubs while he also walked a postal beat and got a good review in the Sun-Times by Roger Ebert. He received an early boost from Kris Kristofferson, who championed him alongside Steve Goodman. He performed in NYC, signed with Atlantic: John Prine '71 included the harrowing Vietnam vet saga 'Sam Stone', probably his best-known song; also saw him lumbered with the 'new Dylan' tag, shared with Goodman, Loudon Wainwright, Bruce Springsteen etc, the comparison stretched as Dylan appeared on stage with him early '70s. His songs examined the white proletarian USA with a keen but sympathetic eye: Diamonds In The Rough '72 and Sweet Revenge '73 were strong albums; Common Sense '75 was harder rock, Prime Prine '76 an Atlantic compilation. A move sideways to Elektra/ Asylum led to Bruised Orange '78, a return to folk roots produced by Goodman. Pink Cadillac '79 had a rockabilly flavour, made at Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis; Storm Windows '80 was his last on Asylum. Goodman played on all the LPs from Diamonds to Orange; Jethro Burns on Orange as well; backup singers on various LPs included Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, J. D. Souther; his songs have been covered by Joan Baez, Bette Midler, the Everly Brothers; all the albums made the Billboard Top 200 LPs, only Common Sense the top 100.

But critical acclaim and a loyal following are not enough for major label combines; Asylum dropped him and he joined Goodman, John Stewart and many others in putting out his own records. Aimless Love '86 was said to be his best in years, made in Nashville with John Sebastian and Jennifer Warnes, released on Oh Boy USA/Demon UK, as was German Afternoons, with country roots showing. His live solo act was spellbinding; his pulse is such that if the listener's foot does not tap a doctor should be called. John Prine Live (a two-CD set), The Missing Years (a Grammy winner, produced by Howie Epstein, Tom Petty's bassist) and Lost Dogs And Mixed Blessings '95 were all on Oh Boy; Great Days was a two-CD anthology on Rhino. Meanwhile, he opened for Bonnie Raitt on her '91 tour, appeared in the film Falling From Grace '92 with John Mellencamp, and hosted an Irish TV series; his songs continued to be covered. Live On Tour '97 on Oh Boy included 'Space Monkey' (he returns to find the Soviet Union is gone) and 'Jesus: The Missing Years'. In 1998 he beat cancer, a sarcoma on his neck, and his voice deepened.

In Spite Of Ourselves '99 was an album of duets with Emmylou Harris, Trish Yearwood and several others; only one song was Prine's. Souvenirs 2000 was re-recordings of some of his classics. John Prine Live From Sessions At West 54th was a DVD of a PBS broadcast plus other material. He was named Artist of the Year at the 4th Annual Americana Music Honors and Awards in Nashville late in 2005, and in 2006 after many nominations Prine won his second Grammy, Best Contemporary Folk Album for Fair & Square on Oh Boy, his first studio album of new songs in many years. Fair & Square was also the best seller of Prine’s career, entering Billboard’s Indie chart at number 2, and number 55 on the Top 200 Albums chart. After 13 more years, The Tree of Forgiveness 2018 was his next new set of new songs, his 19th album, classic Prine, wrote one critic,'equally sweet and irreverent, written from a worldview where the heartbreaking and the ludicrous walk hand-in-hand.'