UPDATED with tributes from Kris Kristofferson and others: John Prine, a revered, Grammy-winning folk-Americana singer-songwriter who counted music legends including Bob Dylan among his biggest fans, died today of complications from coronavirus. He was 73.
Read some tributes from Kristofferson, Bobby Bare, Jerry Lee Lewis and others below.
Prine — a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame who last year was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time — had been hospitalized since March 26 with COVID-19 symptoms and been listed in critical condition for more than a week. Earlier his wife, Fiona, had announced that she also had coronavirus symptoms.
A former mail carrier, Prine was discovered by Kris Kristofferson, who produced the singer’s folk-tinged self-titled debut album for Atlantic Records in 1971. The acclaimed record wasn’t a commercial hit but featured two songs that would become his signatures: “Sam Stone,” about an addicted Vietnam vet, which Johnny Cash famously covered, and “Hello in There,” an iconoclastic ode to lonely empty-nesters that clashed with the era’s Generation Gap ethos.
Prine that year earned the first of his 11 Grammy Award nominations, for Best New Artist, which eventually went to the trio America.
John Prine ranks No. 452 on Rolling Stone‘s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The Illinois native followed that disc up with three others for Atlantic during the next three years, each chart a little higher than the last but peaking with 1975’s Common Sense, which reached No. 66 on the Billboard 200. A hits compilation — Prime Prine: The Best of John Prine — followed. It barely dented the chart but eventually was certified gold.
Prine them moved to David Geffen’s artist-friendly Asylum Records, for which he recorded Bruised Orange (1978), Pink Cadillac (1979) and Storm Windows (1980).
After moving to Nashville in the early 1980s, Prine founded Oh Boy Records with his longtime manager Al Bunetta and another associate. He recorded nearly a dozen albums for the label, starting with 1984’s Aimless Love.
Prine continued to write, record and tour during the ensuing decades, and his songs were covered by such heavyweights as Bonnie Raitt, Bette Midler, George Strait and country supergroup the Highwaymen, which featured Cash, Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. He never had a charting single or big-hit album, but he would win a pair of Grammys for Best Contemporary Folk Album: for The Missing Years in 1991 — which featured guest/fans Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty — and for Fair & Square in 2005. He received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2015. and the 2020 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Missing Years was the second of two Prine albums produced by Petty’s longtime bass player Howie Epstein.
Fair & Square began something of a career resurgence for Prine, charting at No. 55. His two most recent albums, 2016’s duets disc For Better, or Worse and 2018’s The Tree of Forgiveness, reached No. 30 and No. 5 on the Billboard 200, respectively. Both also hit No. 2 on the Country Albums chart and the top 10 on the Indie Albums tally.
Prine also was part of Buzzin’ Cousins, the short-lived supergroup that also featured John Mellencamp, Joe Ely, Dwight Yoakam and James McMurtry, They came together to work on the soundtrack for Falling from Grace, the 1992 film that starred Mellencamp and was written by McMurtry’s father, Oscar winner Larry McMurtry.
McMurtry also wrote the screenplay for Falling from Grace, the 1992 film starring future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp. Around that time, the writer’s son James met Mellencamp, who would go on to produced James’ debut album. James McMurtry contributed to the film’s soundtrack as part of Buzzin’ Cousins, a short-lived
Prine was born on October 10, 1946, in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, IL, and joined the Postal Service after a stint in the Army. He made his performing debut on an open-mic night and so impressed the place’s owner that he hired the singer on the spot. Kristofferson saw him play in Chicago and helped establish the singer’s career, which earned critical — and peer — hosannas for decades.
Several star musicians paid tribute to Prine this week:
“John Prine was one of the greatest artists of my life. Knowing him was a blessing.”
– Kris Kristofferson
Watch Kristofferson and Prine perform “Paradise” at the 2010 Bonnaroo Festival:
“Well, John Prine was probably my favorite singer because of his phrasing and delivery – no matter what he did I loved it. I’ve never heard anything by John Prine that I did not like. I recorded ‘The Oldest Baby in the World’ and John and I did it together on my TV show. I am in mourning today, John was the epitome of a great songwriter up there with Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein. They know, more than anyone, how to correctly phrase their songs, I always gave the songwriters my ear when it comes to phrasing when recording their songs on my projects. I’m in mourning today for my friend, John Prine.”
— Bobby Bare
“The world of music has forever changed with the passing of John Prine. His creative genius will last for eternity. I will cherish the moments spent with John and the cherub smile he always shared. My thoughts and prayers to the family. Rest easy my friend.”
— Randy Travis
“Rest in peace, John Prine. Your legend will live on. Love you, my friend.”
— Jerry Lee Lewis
“This is a terrible thing. John Prine and his music will be remembered for generations to come. I have great memories of his music. Condolences to Fiona and the family.”
— Doug Stone
“John wrote the kind of songs that make you think ‘why am I in this business?’ what a master! I played with him in the ’80s on some TV shows. Our hearts go out to Fiona and the family.”
— Max T. Barnes
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