Tuesday, April 7, 2020
– John Prine, who rose from postman to one of America's finest songwriters, passed away today in Nashville at 73 from coronavirus.
Prine, known for such songs as "Angel from Montgomery" and "Paradise," had been hospitalized since March 26. He tended to write about common people in a most literary way, attracting much acclaim from the likes of Dylan and Johnny Cash. Prine wrote about social and political topics, such as an addicted Viet Nam War veteran, who suffered from PTSD ("Sam Stone").
Prine wore many hats - songwriter, performer, recording artist and record label owner. He also displayed a sense of humor both in song and in concert.
Prine was born in the Chicago suburb of Maywood on Oct. 10, 1946. He began playing guitar at the age of 14 and attended classes at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. He was a mailman for five years, writing songs during his time delivering mail, and served in the Army during the Vietnam War era.
He moved back to Chicago and began to sing at open mic evenings at the Fifth Peg on Armitage Avenue in Chicago despite being initially reluctant to do so. In fact, Roger Ebert, best known as a movie critic, was there at his first gig and heaped praises upon Prine. At the urging of fellow Chicago singer Steve Goodman ("City of New Orleans"), Kris Kristofferson came to check out Prine and was impressed. He eventually became a key figure in the Chicago folk scene, which included Steve Goodman and Bonnie Koloc.
Prine made his debut in 1971 with a self-titled disc on Atlantic. The recording included such songs as "Illegal Smile," "Sam Stone," and songs that would later become standards, "Angel from Montgomery" and "Paradise." Bonnie Raitt would later have a hit with "Angel From Montgomery."
He continued releasing albums with 1978's "Bruised Orange," spurring on his career. He followed that up the next year with "Pink Cadillac," which included two songs produced by Sam Phillps.
Prine had it with the major labels and formed Oh Boy Records in 1981. The label, based in Nashville, remained a vehicle for his recordings and occasionally other artists. Prine crowd-funded his albums before that became a popular tool.
Prine won a Grammy in 1991 for "The Missing Years," a collaboration with Howie Epstein of The Heartbreakers. Prine also took home a Grammy in 2005 with "Fair & Square" for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
While not a huge commercial seller, Prine gained much acclaim. He won the Americana Music Association's Artist of the Year honor in 2017, making that the second time he received that honor. He was a fan favorite at the Newport Folk Festival in recent years as well.
Among the artists covering Prine songs were George Strait, "I Just Want to Dance With You,"
Miranda Lambert, "That's the Way That the World Goes Round," David Allan Coe, "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" and Don Williams, "Love Is on a Roll."
Bob Dylan told The Huffington Post that Prine was one of his favorite writers. "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. 'Sam Stone' featuring the wonderfully evocative line: 'There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes, and Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose.' All that stuff about "Sam Stone," the soldier junkie daddy, and "Donald and Lydia", where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that."
In 2016, Prine released "For Better, or Worse," an album of duets with female country singers including Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, Holly Williams, Kathy Mattea and LeeAnn Womack.
Prine announced his first new album of original material in 13 years, "The Tree of Forgiveness," in 2018. Produced by Dave Cobb, the album featured Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Dan Auerbach and Brandi Carlile. The album became Prine's highest-charting album on the Billboard 200.
Prine attended the Grammys in January, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
He suffered from several bouts with cancer.
In 1998, Prine was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck. The surgery removed a piece of his neck and severed a few nerves in his tongue. Prine required a year of recuperation and speech therapy before performing again. His voice also changed, resulting in a gravelly tone.
In 2013, Prine had lung cancer, removing the lung. He was touring six weeks later.
Prine's wife and manager Fiona Whelan Prine said on March 19 that she had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and was quarantined in her home apart from her husband. He was hospitalizd on March 26.