John Prine – in concert at Rockefellers, Houston – February 2, 1984 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
No sooner do we (barely) recover from one loss and another one appears. Death, it would appear, seems to be visiting most of the music genres this time around – the loss is evenly spread. The hatred toward Coronavirus only intensifies.
Tonight it’s John Prine – an artist whose work has touched so many lives and influenced so many artists, gone today after a relatively short battle with Coronavirus. Going to his website today, I was struck by how many concerts he was slated to perform this Spring – still a vital force – cut short. There will be no more shows.
My friend and colleague Chris Morris at Daily Variety wrote one of the most touching tributes – here’s a little of what he had to say:
Prine was never a huge seller: The top-charting record of his early career, 1975’s “Common Sense,” peaked at No. 66, and he did not reach the American top 10 until 2018. But he was universally recognized by his peers as a gifted and distinctive songsmith who put his numbers across in a furry drawl that mated rich homespun humor, sharp narrative detail and deep warmth and poignancy.
He burst out of the Chicago folk music scene, where he played club shows while he worked by day as a mail carrier, in the early ‘70s. He received his first major break when Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert walked out of a movie screening and stumbled upon Prine’s set at the local club the Fifth Peg.
“Somebody told him to go in the backroom and listen to this kid,” Prine recalled on NPR in 2018. “I was the kid. And he wrote a full page – ‘Singing Mailman Delivers the Message,’ I think that was the headline…and I never had an empty seat after that.”
His work of the ‘90s included “The Missing Years” (1991), winner of the best contemporary folk album Grammy, and “Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings” (1995), two punchy albums produced by Tom Petty’s bassist Howie Epstein and featuring backing by members of Petty’s group the Heartbreakers.
In spite of a multitude of health setbacks later in life, Prine always maintained the sense of humor that characterized much of his best work, even in a number about his own mortality. In 2018’s “When I Get to Heaven,” a comic song that concluded “The Tree of Forgiveness,” he promised that in the afterlife, “the old man is going to town.”
Thanks Chris for letting me use the tribute – thank you John Prine for imparting your magic and your art.
And now on to the concert – recorded at Rockefellers in Houston in February 1984.
And no more words.