R.I.P., John Prine
If you’re a fan of singer-songwriters, then you have our deepest sympathies, because – probably not unlike yourself – we here at Rhino HQ have been in mourning ever since the news broke late last night that the legendary John Prine died of complications from COVID-19.
Sure, we knew he’d been doing poorly since testing positive for the virus. We also knew that he’d been put on a ventilator. But given how much he’d fought for life over the course of the past several years – the guy beat cancer, for heaven’s sake! – we still kept our fingers crossed that he was gonna pull through, so the fact that he didn’t...
Well, again, probably not unlike yourself, we’re still somewhat in a state of denial.
Prine’s official website describes him as “a two time Grammy-winner, singer-songwriter...among the English language's premier phrase-turners with music relevant to any age,” and if there’s any part of that description that should give you pause, it’s the fact that he won so few Grammy Awards during the course of his career. Then again, that’s what was so remarkable about Prine: there was never any point when he was shifting platinum units, yet it seems as though any songwriter of note could tell you the titles of at least a couple of Prine tunes and talk about how much they respect his work.
Prine was a rising figure in the Chicago folk revival scene during the late 1960s, along with fellow singer-songwriter Steve Goodman, but the two of them in particular got a leg up when they found a high-profile fan in Kris Kristofferson, who reportedly (but believably) said that Prine wrote songs so good that “we’ll have to break his thumbs.” It wasn’t so long after that when Prine’s self-titled album was released on Atlantic Records, and if you aren’t sure if you’ve ever heard it, well, you’ve probably at least heard some of the songs, like “Angel of Montgomery,” which Bonnie Raitt famously covered, and “Hello in There,” which has been recorded by a variety of artists, including Bette Midler and 10,000 Maniacs.
Our hearts are aching more this morning with news of John Prine’s death. In 1990 Billy Bragg, Michael Stipe and I did an impromptu version of his song, ‘Hello in There'. https://t.co/PydwZ3bFzV— Natalie Merchant (@NatalieMerchant) April 8, 2020
Prine was part of the Atlantic Records family for three more albums – DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH (1972), SWEET REVENGE (1973), and COMMON SENSE (1975) – and then jumped over to Asylum Records for another three records: BRUISED ORANGE (1978), PINK CADILLAC (1979), and STORM WINDOWS (1980). The most successful of the bunch was COMMON SENSE, which was also his only album between the two labels to make it into the upper half of the Billboard 200, topping out at #66. After leaving Asylum, it would be another four years before Prine would release a new album, but once he got in the groove again, he kept on releasing records on a regular basis for the long haul.
God bless you John and thank you eternally for the sacred gift of the often overlooked happiness in moments of everyday life that you caused us to see, hear, and feel with your songs...— Dwight Yoakam (@DwightYoakam) April 8, 2020
It must be said, however, that the most wonderful thing – and the most depressing thing – about Prine’s career as a recording artist is that his most recent studio album, 2018’s THE TREE OF FORGIVENESS, was the highest-charting album of his entire career, taking him to #5 on the Billboard 200. Why is that depressing? Because we know he had it in him to make it all the way to the top...and we know that because he was one of the best.
Words can't even come close.— Bonnie Raitt (@TheBonnieRaitt) April 8, 2020
I'm crushed by the loss of my dear friend, John. My heart and love go out to Fiona and all the family. For all of us whose hearts are breaking, we will keep singing his songs and holding him near. @JohnPrineMusic
“A brilliant storyteller of extraordinary wit, perception, social conscience, and deep humanity, Prine counted Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash among his biggest fans. When Prine was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019, Bonnie Raitt said it best: ‘John can fit so much meaning and insight into such deceptively simple lines and weave a heart-wrenching moment of hilarity, empathy or hard fought truth into such beautiful stories and characters, then wrap them all up in melodies as comfortable as slipping into your favorite pair of jeans.’ Earlier this year, Prine was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy. He was a true American treasure, and we are honored to have been a part of his incredible musical journey. John Prine will be deeply missed by his fellow artists and songwriters, and his many devoted fans across the globe.”
- Kevin Gore, President, Global Catalog, Recorded Music & Arts Music, Warner Music Group