John Prine Biography

John Prine
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John Prine - Live on Soundstage 1980
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10 October 1946, Maywood, Illinois, USA. His grandfather had played with Merle Travis, and Prine himself started playing guitar at the age of 14. He then spent time in college, worked as a postman for five years, and spent two years in the army. He began his musical career around 1970, singing in clubs in the Chicago area. Prine signed to Atlantic Records in 1971, releasing the powerful John Prine. The album contained the excellent Vietnam veteran song ‘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’. Over the years Prine achieved cult status, his songs being increasingly covered by other artists such as Bonnie Raitt and John Denver. ‘Angel From Montgomery’, ‘Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness’, and ‘Paradise’ are three of his most popular songs, and he co-wrote the hit ‘I Just Want To Dance With You’ with Roger Cook. He was inevitably given the unenviable tag of ‘the new Dylan’ at one stage. His last album for Atlantic, 1975’s Common Sense (produced by Steve Cropper), was his first album to make the US Top 100. While the quality and content of all his work was quite excellent, his other albums had only scratched the US Top 200. His first release for Asylum Records, Bruised Orange, was well received, but the follow-up, Pink Cadillac, was not so well accommodated by the public or the critics.

After the release of 1980’s Storm Windows, Prine left Asylum and set up his own Oh Boy label. He released several well-received albums on Oh Boy during the 80s, but it was 1991’s The Missing Years that firmly re-established his name. The album enjoyed significant commercial success in the US, and won a Grammy Award for best Contemporary Folk Album, making Prine almost a household name. Prine’s career took on a new lease of life in the 90s, and he presented Town And Country for Channel 4 Television in the UK in 1992, a series of music programmes featuring singers such as Nanci Griffith and Rodney Crowell. His songs have become increasingly quirky, and only the author could know the meaning of many of them. In keeping with his career upswing, 1995’s Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings was another strong work.

Since then Prine has beaten throat cancer, having had surgery in its earliest stage. His next recording, 1999’s In Spite Of Ourselves, saw Prine tackling a number of country classics with the help of his favourite female singers. Most notably, the album featured four duets with singer-songwriter Iris DeMent. The following year’s Souvenirs featured re-recordings of a selection of Prine classics. Prine was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003. The 2005 release Fair & Square was the artist’s first collection of predominantly new material in almost 10 years.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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