Another Honky Tonk hero

‘Browsing through the honky tonk bin again  …  This time another classic genuine original. Don Walser was Real country, a yodeler and had a fine tenor voice. Check him out and enjoy’
rŌbert

 

THE LIFE OF DON WALSER


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Don Walser was born in Brownfield, Texas. A roots musician since he was 11 years old, Walser became an accomplished guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. He started his first band, The Panhandle Playboys, at age 16, and shared bills with another aspiring Texas singer, Buddy Holly.

As rock’n’roll began to skyrocket in popularity, Walser opted to stay in the Texas Panhandle, raise a family and work as a mechanic and later as an auditor for the National Guard, rather than move to Nashville and pursue a recording career. As a result, he had little following outside Texas for the first part of his career. However, he never stopped playing and became widely known in Texas. From 1959-61 Walser had a group called The Texas Plainsmen and a weekly radio program. For the next three decades he was always in bands and played a heavy schedule. He wrote popular original songs such as “Rolling Stone from Texas”, which received a four-star review in 1964 from Billboard magazine.

 

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As time went on, Walser also became known for maintaining a catalog of older, obscure country music and cowboy songs. He keep alive old 1940s and 1950s tunes by country music pioneers such as Bob Wills and Eddie Arnold, and made them his own in a style that blended elements of honky tonk and Western swing. He also was known for his extraordinary yodeling style in the tradition of Slim Whitman and Jimmie Rodgers.

 

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In 1984, the Guard transferred Walser to Austin, a center of the burgeoning alt-country music scene. He put together his Pure Texas Band and developed a strong local following. Walser opened for Johnny Cash in 1996. In 1990, Walser was “discovered” by musician and talent scout TJ McFarland.

In 1994, aged 60, Walser retired from the Guard. Able to devote himself fully to music for the first time in his life, he was immediately signed by Watermelon Records, and released his first LP, Rolling Stone From Texas, produced by Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. His extraordinary vocal abilities earned him the nickname “the Pavarotti of the Plains” by a reviewer for Playboy magazine. Because of his Austin base, he attracted fans from country music traditionalists, and alternative music and punk fans. His band later became the opening act for the Butthole Surfers.

Don Walser was voted “Best Performing Country Band” at the Austin Music Awards, was voted top country band of the year by the Austin Chronicle in 1996, and received an Association for Independent Music “Indie” Award in 1997. He also received recognition in mainstream country, and played the Grand Ole Opry on October 30, 1999, and again in 2001. In 2000 he received a lifetime “Heritage” award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he and the Pure Texas Band played at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He also received cameo roles in feature movies with honky-tonk settings, such as The Hi-Lo Country (1998), starring Woody Harrelson.

In September, 2003, Don Walser retired from live performances due to health issues. Three years later, Walser died due to complications from diabetes on September 20, 2006, 6 days after his 72nd birthday.

I hope I never offended anyone, especially my friends. I like to think that I stood by my friends and that I never gave any advice to someone that I didn’t live by myself. I’ve tried to live my life like an open book. I done about as good as I could, you know. I might have done a few little things differently, but not much. As for the music business, I ain’t got too much to say about it. Music to me is not like it is to most folks.” 

From and op-ed in the Austin Chronicle written by Mark Rubin

 

 

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~~~  WATCH/LISTEN  ~~~

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Texas Music Cafe features live performances from singer-songwriters all over Texas and beyond. Over 20 years of unknowns and locals alongside the legendary icons of Texas music reside in our archive. Donald Ray Walser (September 14, 1934 – September 20, 2006) was an American country music singer. He was known as a unique, award-winning yodeling “Texas country music legend.”

Quotes about Don Walser

“Perhaps the last of God’s great pure country singers, with a national and international following among those who like the real deal” — John Morthland

“This man’s voice is a national treasure and qualifies as high Texas folk art. … When it comes to evocative, classic country music, it doesn’t get much better than this” — Erik Hage, Allmusic

“Nothing less than pure country music incarnate” — David Courtney, Austin City Search

“Country music’s greatest yodeler” — Texas Music Group

“A Texas country music institution” — Jerry Renshaw, Austin Chronicle

“Simply one of the great voices and nice guys of our day” — tunefan.com

 

Flashback: Tom Waits Performs a Moving ‘Jersey Girl’ in 1986 ~ RollingStone

“Jersey Girl” has become one of Bruce Springsteen’s most beloved odes to his home state even though it’s actually by Waits

Bruce Springsteen has no shortage of original songs about New Jersey that he could have played near the end of the Jersey 4 Jersey fundraising event on Wednesday night. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” would have been a touching tribute to his adopted boardwalk town, while “My Hometown” would have been a bittersweet look at his childhood in Freehold, and “My City of Ruins” would have gone back to its original, pre-9/11 meaning as an elegy for the struggling community of Asbury Park, now devastated once again due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, he went with “Jersey Girl.” It’s been a fan favorite ever since he first played it live on the River tour in 1981. It got more exposure in 1984 when it appeared as the B side to “Cover Me.” Two years later, he included it on the Live 1975–85 box set. It never fails to rev up a crowd and get them singing along to the “sha la la” chorus, but he’s done it just 48 times in the past 37 years and it’s often reserved for special nights in New Jersey.

What’s odd is that Springsteen didn’t actually write the thing. That may be like learning that Brian Wilson didn’t pen “Surfer Girl” (he did), but “Jersey Girl” is a Tom Waits tune. It was written about his wife Kathleen Brennan and it appears on his 1980 LP Heartattack and Vine. Waits and Springsteen sang it together at a 1981 show at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Check out this video of Waits singing the song alone at a 1986 gig in San Remo, Italy.)

The Waits version is about an idyllic evening with his love at a carnival in New Jersey where they dream about a life together. There’s not even a hint of darkness or despair. The “Party Lights” verse changes that quite a bit. The Jersey Girl is suddenly drained after a long day at a job she hates. “Go in the bathroom, put your makeup on,” Springsteen sings. “We’re gonna take that little brat of yours and drop her off at your mom’s.”

Their night together is now a brief respite from the pressures of single motherhood and an unfulfilling career. Things are even grimmer in “Party Lights,” where the woman desperately misses her care-free evenings before she had the baby, but even the isolated lines end “Jersey Girl” on a very different note. (Many other “Party Lights” lyrics were later used on “Point Blank.” And “Atlantic City” also has a line where the narrator instructs a woman to “put your makeup on” before they head out.)

Springsteen didn’t sing the “Party Lights” verse at the end of the Jersey 4 Jersey telecast. It was basically the Tom Waits rendition minus the “whores” line, which probably seemed like the right choice considering the occasion.

Waits himself hasn’t played the song a single time since a 1999 gig at the Orpheum Theater in Vancouver. He also hasn’t toured since 2008 or played an extended set since the 2013 Bridge School Benefit.

Hopefully when this all ends, Waits and Springsteen will both hit the road for long overdue tours. At the very least, Waits could come out again at an E Street Band show to sing “Jersey Girl.” If it does nothing else, it will remind people that he wrote it.

Lefty Frizzell

Listening to some Honky Tonk this afternoon.. Lefty was the king of the honky tonk style..

rŌbert

 

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Lefty Frizzell singing

 

 

Lefty Frizzell was the definitive honky tonk singer, the vocalist that set the style for generations of vocalists that followed him. Frizzell smoothed out the rough edges of honky tonk by singing longer, flowing phrases — essentially, he made honky tonk more acceptable for the mainstream without losing its gritty, bar-room roots. In the process, he changed the way country vocalists sang forever. From George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson to George Strait, John Anderson, Randy Travis, and Keith Whitley, hundreds of artists have emulated and expanded Lefty‘s innovations. Frizzell‘s singing became the foundation of how hard country should be sung.

Despite his influence, there was a time when Lefty wasn’t regarded as one of country’s definitive artists. Unlike Hank Williams — the only contemporary of Lefty that had greater influence — he didn’t die young, leaving behind a romantic legend. After his popularity peaked in the early and mid-’50s, Frizzellcontinued to record, without having much success. However, his recordings continued to reach new listeners and his reputation was restored by the new traditionalists of the ’80s, nearly ten years after Lefty‘s death.

Lefty (born William Orville Frizzell) was born in Corisicana, TX, in 1928, a son of an oiler; he was the first of eight children. During his childhood, his family moved to El Dorado, AR. As a child he was called Sonny, but his nickname changed to Lefty when he was 14, because he won a schoolyard fight; it was later suggested that he earned his nickname after winning a Golden Gloves boxing match, but that was eventually proven to be a hatched publicity stunt by his record company. Initially, Lefty was attracted to music through his parents’ Jimmie Rodgers records. He began singing professionally before he was a teenager, landing a regular spot on KELD El Dorado.

Frizzell spent his teenage years playing throughout the region, singing on radio shows, in nightclubs, for dances, and in talent contests. He traveled throughout the South, playing in Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and even Las Vegas. During this time, he was refining his style, drawing from influences like Rodgers, Ernest Tubb, and Ted Daffan. Lefty‘s career was going fine until he was arrested in the mid-’40s, serving a jail sentence for statutory rape.

Frizzell‘s run-in with the law led him away from music, as he temporarily worked in the oil fields with his father. However, his time as an oiler was brief and he was soon performing in clubs again. By 1950, he had landed a regular job at the Texas club Ace of Clubs, where he developed a dedicated following of fans. At one of his concerts at the Ace of Clubs he caught the attention of Jim Beck, the owner of a local recording studio. Beck recorded music for several major record labels, and he also had connections within the publishing industry. Impressed with Lefty‘s performance, he invited the singer to make some demos at the studio. In April of 1950, Frizzell cut several demos of his original songs, including a new song called “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” which Beck took to Nashville. Beck intended to pitch the song to Little Jimmy Dickens, but Dickens disliked the song. However, Columbia record producer Don Law heard the tape and liked Frizzell‘s voice. After hearing Lefty live in concert, Law signed the singer to Columbia; within a few months, he had his first recording session.

“If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” Lefty‘s first single, climbed to number one upon its release. It was a huge hit — its B-side, “I Love You a Thousand Ways,” even hit number one — with other artists hurrying into the studio to cut their own versions; over 40 performers wound up recording the song. Within 17 days of the single’s release, Columbia had Frizzell record another single. The result, “Look What Thoughts Will Do”/”Shine, Shave, Shower (It’s Saturday),” wasn’t as big a hit, but it did reach the Top Ten.

By now, the Lefty Frizzell sound was being perfected by the vocalist and Law. Frizzell was working with a core group of Dallas-based studio musicians, highlighted by pianist Madge Sutee. In the beginning of 1951, he formed the Western Cherokees, which was led by Blackie Crawford. Soon, the Western Cherokees became his primary band for both live and recording situations. Lefty was in the studio frequently, recording singles. His third single, “I Want to Be With You Always,” was number one for 11 weeks, and its follow-up, “Always Late (With Your Kisses),” spent 12 weeks at number one. At one point in early 1951, he had a total of four songs in the country Top Ten, setting a record that was never broken. Frizzell was a popular concert attraction, playing shows with the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry. He had three more Top Ten hits in 1951 — “Mom and Dad’s Waltz,” “Travelin’ Blues,” and the number one “Give Me More, More, More (Of Your Kisses).”

The hits continued throughout 1952, as “How Long Will It Take (To Stop Loving You),” “Don’t Stay Away (Till Love Grows Cold),” “Forever (And Always),” and “I’m an Old, Old Man (Tryin’ to Live While I Can)” all went to the Top Ten. Even though he was at the peak of his popularity, things began to unravel for Leftybehind the scenes. Frizzell fired both his manager and his band. He joined the Grand Ole Opry, but he decided he didn’t like it and left almost immediately. Lefty was earning a lot of money but was spending nearly all of it. He worked with Wayne Raney, but the sessions were a failure. In early 1953, he moved from Texas to Los Angeles, where he got a regular job on Town Hall Party. That year, he had only one hit, the Top Ten “(Honey, Baby, Hurry!) Bring Your Sweet Self Back to Me.”

Early in 1954, he reached the Top Ten with “Run ‘Em Off,” but it would be his last Top Ten record for five years. During the mid-’50s, Frizzell felt burned out and didn’t have the energy to invest in his career. He had a total of two hits between 1954 and 1959 — “I Love You Mostly” in 1955, “Cigarettes and Coffee Blues” — because he decided to stop recording. Lefty was frustrated that Columbia wasn’t releasing what he believed to be his best material, so he simply stopped writing and recording songs. However, he did tour sporadically, occasionally with his brother, David Frizzell.

Deciding it was time for a change, he began working with Jim Denny‘s Nashville-based Cedarwood publishing company in 1959. Cedarwood gave him “The Long Black Veil,” a song written by Danny Dilland Marijohn Wilkin that had overt folk music influences. Lefty recorded the song, and it became a surprise Top Ten hit in the summer of 1959. Encouraged by its success, Frizzell moved to Nashville in 1961, after Town Hall Party closed in 1960. He began touring and recording at a more rapid rate, although it only resulted in a couple of minor hits. Lefty‘s last big hit arrived early in 1964, when “Saginaw, Michigan” climbed to number one and spent four weeks on the top of the charts. After that, he came close to the Top Ten with 1965’s “She’s Gone Gone Gone,” but he usually struggled to have any of his songs break the Top 20 for the next decade.

Frizzell didn’t stop recording, but he did develop a debilitating alcohol problem that came to plague him throughout the late ’60s and ’70s. However, alcohol wasn’t the only thing holding his career back — Columbia was only releasing handfuls of albums and singles, though Lefty was recording an abundance of material. Since his records weren’t as successful, he drastically cut back the number of concerts he performed. In 1968, he cut some songs with June Stearns under the name Agnes and Orville, but none of the tracks became hits. The lack of success helped him sink deeper into alcoholism.

In 1972, Lefty left Columbia, signing with ABC Records. Though the change in labels helped revitalize him artistically, he didn’t sell that many more records. However, he did have the enthusiasm to record albums, as well as play concerts and television shows. Frizzell‘s alcohol addiction worsened and he developed high blood pressure, but he wouldn’t take the medication because he thought it would interfere with his drinking. As a result, he looked older than his 47 years when he died of a stroke in 1975.

Life's Like Poetry

Years of mediocre and mis-marketed records had diminished Lefty‘s reputation, but after his death, a new generation of artists hailed him as an influence and an idol. Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and George Jones had all sung his praises before, but in the mid-’80s, the kind words of George Straitand Randy Travis were supported by a series of reissues, beginning with Bear Family’s 14-LP set, His Life His Music(later replaced by the 12-CD Life’s Like Poetry). In 1982, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but the greatest testament to his music remains the fact that his voice can be heard in every hard country singer that followed.

Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine ~ ALLMUSIC

JAZZ FEST IN PLACE

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Dear Guardians of the Groove,

We are thinking of you and sending our best wishes!

Here is a very special announcement we hope will lift your spirits.

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Pull out your festival shirts, hats, flags, chairs and get ready to celebrate the best of New Orleans music from your backyard, your front porch or your air-conditioned living room-anywhere in the world!

WWOZ will broadcast for 8 days-8 hours each 11am-7pm, the same days and hours as the originally-scheduled Jazz Fest! 

April 23-26 and April 30-May 3

We’re even creating our own special cubes highlighting the schedule which will include some of the best performances in the history of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. 

Dr. John * Fats Domino * The Neville Brothers * Irma Thomas* Allen Toussaint* Henry Butler * Marcia Ball * Preservation Hall Jazz Band * Mardi Gras Indians * Trombone Shorty * Kermit Ruffins * John Boutte *The Radiators * Big Freedia * Ernie K-Doe * Ellis Marsalis * Danny Barker * The Rebirth Brass Band *Bob French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band-and many other Jazz, Blues, Cajun and Zydeco artists. 

We’ll also be airing the rarely heard “Fire Benefit” from 1974 featuring Professor Longhair, the Wild Magnolias and Dr. John.

The 8-day broadcast will also include interview segments highlighting the music, food, crafts and heritage of New Orleans and Louisiana to give the feeling of a wide-reaching cultural festival. We will also be sharing recipes for some of your favorite Jazz Fest cuisine, and also help you connect with local festival food and craft vendors.

We’ll ask YOU — Ozillians from around the world — to share pictures of your “Festing in Place” outposts as well as your festival fashions and food as we gather virtually to stay connected!

Special thanks to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

Yours in the Groove,

Beth Arroyo Utterback,
WWOZ General Manager

WWOZ.ORG

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In a self-isolated world, New Orleans musicians fight to beat back the silence ~ The Washington Post

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Big Sam Williams, a trombone player, poses for a portrait in his neighborhood in New Orleans. (Annie Flanagan/For The Washington Post)

John Prine: The Last Days and Beautiful Life of an American Original ~ RollingStone

His wife, Fiona, son Jody, and others remember a big-hearted genius who championed new artists and made the most of the small things in life

 

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Prine at home in 2016, David McClister

John Prine’s 50-year career had taken him from the folk clubs of Chicago to sold-out venues in London, Australia, and beyond. But as he planned the schedule for the final leg of his Tree of Forgiveness tour, there was still one place he needed to play: Paris.

The city had never seemed to care for Prine. His down-to-earth folk songs had spread to Ireland, England, and even Scandinavia. But a promoter told his touring manager Mitchell Drosin that there was no point in booking his first-ever show in France; Prine would lose money if he brought his band. “John said, ‘You don’t understand. I want to play Paris, and I want to stay at the George V,’ which is one of the most expensive hotels in the world,” says Drosin. “It’s a Four Seasons, it’s insane. I said, ‘You know, your hotel is more than you’re going to get paid. It’s just going to be a club show. John said, ‘That’s great.’”

Drosin booked a show at Paris’ 500-capacity Café de La Danse, much smaller than the other venues on the tour. Prine loved Paris in ways that even Fiona, his wife and manager, struggled to explain. “He always loved that [Parisians] treated him with disdain, you know?” she says. “He just loved the people and the food and the idea he couldn’t understand a word they were saying. He didn’t have much of an ego.”

At the show, on February 13th, Prine was in serious pain from what he later learned was a collapsed hip. He was forced to sit in a chair onstage, something he never did. But he delivered, blasting through one of the most distinct catalogs in American popular music. There was 1971’s “Six O’Clock News,” the stunning story of a man who learns his family history was a lie and kills himself; “Angel From Montgomery,” his classic about the sadness of a suburban 1950s housewife; and 2018’s “Summer’s End,” a ballad he had dedicated to people suffering from America’s opioid crisis.

Prine invited Fiona and some visiting family members onstage to sing along to “Paradise,” a 1971 song about the devastation of the Kentucky coal-mining town where his parents met; in recent years, it had become an environmental anthem. Prine joked about his immobility, saying, “OK, now we’re coming to the encore,” because he couldn’t easily leave the stage. Prine’s sound engineer Andy Primus says Prine was “giddy,” telling more stories than usual: “People were sitting on the stairs and hanging over the railings, it felt like he was playing in your living room. Prine was feeding off the vibe and just having a blast.”

“He might as well have danced off the stage,” says Fiona. “He was so proud that he did that show, and it was sold out and they loved him. It felt like a victory lap.”

The entire tour had felt like a victory lap, in fact. Prine’s most recent album, 2018’s The Tree of Forgiveness, was his first LP of new material in 13 years, proving that even in his seventies he could write just as deeply as ever. For a half-century, Prine had covered subjects few others touched — the loneliness of the elderly, serial murders, a monkey lost in space — in songs that mixed deceptive simplicity with sharp storytelling and a touch of the surreal. Artists like Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt had long been huge fans. But in the 2010s, Prine had become something of a national treasure. His songs had become a key reference point for a new generation of songwriters. Dan Auerbach, Jason Isbell, and Amanda Shires lost money on the road so that they could open for him. Kacey Musgraves wrote a song where she fantasized about smoking a joint with him. Prine won lifetime achievement awards from the Grammys and the Americana Music Association. (“I’m getting Americana lifetime achievement awards, and I never knew what Americana was,” he said. “But let ’em call me what they want, as long as they call me.”) He was excited to keep it going. By the time he went to Europe this year, he had written a half-dozen songs for his next album and started work on an autobiography.

Prine and Fiona flew home to Nashville, where Prine had successful emergency hip surgery. But in the days that followed, he developed a cough, which he assumed was related to his COPD. Since he’d been traveling overseas, a doctor tested him for COVID-19. As Fiona was walking out the door, the doctor suggested she get tested too. A couple of days later, they stood in their home, the doctor on speakerphone, listening to the results. John’s result was “indeterminate”; Fiona’s was positive. “I literally almost fainted,” she says.

She self-quarantined, leaving the house for a few days to stay somewhere else. While her case was mild, “it was like nothing I’d ever had before,” she says. “I would not compare it to the flu or a cold.”

At first, Prine seemed to be doing OK. He kept up with his physical-therapy exercises and stayed glued to the news; he had a habit of taping and watching all three network broadcasts each night. “He felt sorry for America,” says Fiona. “That it had come to this: that the political distancing was now a physical distancing. He would tell me about how when he was a kid, nobody cared whether you were a Democrat or a Republican. It was the last thing you thought about when you were at school or you were with your friends. It broke his heart that his country became this divided.”

The day she was cleared to stop quarantining, Fiona took Prine straight to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where his condition worsened. Two days after arriving, he was put on a ventilator. Because Fiona had had coronavirus and was likely immune, doctors allowed her to sit with John in the ICU. “I talked to him for 14, 15 hours a day and played music, played him other people doing his songs, played messages from all the kids and from his brothers and my family,” she says. “I told him things that I wanted to tell him. He couldn’t communicate with me, but I just assumed that he could hear me.”

John Prine at an apartment on Briarcliff Road during John Prine on campus of Georgia State College - November 12, 1975 at Georgia State College in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. (Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage)

On April 7th, Prine died due to complications from the virus. He was 73. The outpouring of love and grief around the world was huge and effusive. His songs were streamed 20 million times in two days. Bob Dylan said, “John’s talent and sprit was a gift to the world. We were lucky to have seen and heard him.” Michael D. Higgins, the president of Ireland, where Fiona grew up, called Prine “a voice of tolerance, inclusion, whimsy, and protest, [capturing] the experience of those on the margins in societies.”

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

 

The Emergence of John Prine (2 Hour Version) by Paul Ingles on PRX

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Ry Cooder’s Roots

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Ry COODER

Ry Cooder, Hammersmith Odeon, Circa November 1980 Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty

 

A few weeks after Christmas, Ry Cooder hopped a plane for the Cajun country of southwestern Louisiana. Director Walter Hill had enlisted him to head down there to record part of the soundtrack to his latest film, Southern Comfort, and it was the sort of excursion Cooder loves to make. Even though it lasted only a couple of days, the guitarist was able to play with some of the region’s finest musicians and immerse himself in the centuries-old French-American traditions that still prevail there.

“Ry was something else, not only as a musician, but as a human being,” Dewey Balfa says of Cooder’s visit. A fifty-four-year-old fiddle player, Balfa may well be the world’s best-known Cajun musician. “To tell you the truth, I lost my brothers Will and Rodney in an auto accident a few years ago. I thought I never again would make a recording session and be in the same mood as when Rodney played rhythm guitar for me. But Ry made me feel like I was back in those days. As much as I like other music — country, bluegrass, some rock & roll — I can’t get into the grooves because I’m too deeply rooted in my own music. But Ry can break away from his regular music. He just fell right in with us and lifted the group. I played like I hadn’t played since my brother died.”

With those few sentences, Dewey Balfa manages to sum up much of what makes Ry Cooder special. Though the very mention of words like curator, musicologist or archivistmakes Cooder’s skin crawl, he has done more than any other contemporary musician to bring the various strains of regional music into the pop mainstream. And, as Balfa’s testimony illustrates, Cooder hasn’t accomplished that feat just by duplicating the sound of other people’s records. He’s ventured out — to slack-key guitarist Gabby Pahinui in Hawaii, to bluesman Sleepy John Estes in Tennessee, to Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jimenez in South Texas — learning the music firsthand. And the records that have resulted from those encounters haven’t come off as studied re-creations of little-known art forms; rather, they’ve been accessible, contemporary and personal.

“I know a lot of musicians who like all kinds of music, but very few of them seem able to incorporate these elements into their own stuff and make it come out as a kind of personal music,” says Chris Strachwitz, owner of the California-based Arhoolie Records, a label that specializes in regional and ethnic music. “Ry has what I call a composer’s ear; he’s able to hear things in a way in which they might reach more people. It’s a lot like what some of the classical composers used to do when they’d incorporate elements of folk music into their compositions.”

Even if he didn’t have the most eclectic tastes around, or even if he weren’t able to meld seemingly disparate forms of music into a unified and pleasing whole, Ry Cooder would still be a musician to be reckoned with. For Cooder is a brilliant bottleneck guitarist; his bending and blending of notes can make the instrument sound like it’s talking or crying or laughing (just listen to his instrumental version of Ike and Tina Turner’s “I Think It’s Going to Work Out Fine” on 1979’s Bop Till You Drop). As a rhythm guitarist, Ry may not possess a lot of technique — “People who have technique are like Pat Metheny,” he says. “That, to me, is impossible” — but he is an economical player with an uncanny ability to create unique and interesting sounds.

“I sometimes think he must be playing with four hands,” says drummer Jim Keltner, who has appeared on nine of Cooder’s ten albums. Bassist Tim Drummond agrees. “When we’re in the studio and he’s playing, it’s all I can do to keep playing my bass. I just want to stop and watch him.”

Crimson Sound is a small rehearsal studio hidden away on an alley in Santa Monica just a few blocks from the ocean. Ry Cooder himself lives only a couple of miles from the studio — in a Spanish-style white-stucco house just off the Pacific Coast Highway near Sunset Boulevard — and he’d jogged to Crimson earlier in the morning to work out some material for an upcoming tour in support of his new album, Borderline. When I arrive, he is seated, oddly enough, behind a drum kit.

“You know ‘Trouble You Can’t Fool Me’?” he asks, referring to a track from Bop Till You Drop. “Well, there are certain things that song has to have: these off-time parts, these hits, have to come at a certain time, otherwise the song doesn’t work. Often I’ll tell my poor drummer something, and he won’t understand what the fuck I’m talking about. It’s tough to describe a part, so I gotta find ways to show him.”

It’s typical Cooder. Ry Cooder the perfectionist. Ry Cooder the arranger. Ry Cooder the man obsessed with searching for the perfect sound. Jim Keltner tells how during one of the sessions for Bop, Cooder heard the band make a sound he liked and proceeded to spend the day breaking everything down until he found out what caused it.

Ry fiddles around on the drums for a few more minutes, then moves over to a stool in front of his guitar amplifier. He’s dressed in a baggy violet T-shirt, loose-fitting green slacks and gray running shoes, and his legs — Cooder stands over six feet tall — are spread out in front of him. (“The guy has long legs. And big feet,” Keltner says. “When we’re in the studio and he’s standing behind a baffle, all I can see are his head and those gigantic running shoes sticking out.”)

The forthcoming tour will be Cooder’s first full-fledged set of U.S. dates since his Chicken Skin Music trek in 1976. For those shows, Ry was accompanied by accordionist Flaco Jimenez and, he says, “Everything happened that possibly could.”

Such as? “Well, such as death,” Cooder says, staring down at the floor and talking in a quiet, choppy drawl. “The bass player’s oldest son died suddenly. Then the saxophone player’s father died. And illness. Flaco had problems and had to go home for a week. The guitar player got pneumonia and had to be put in the hospital. And hardship. We had a bus we couldn’t pay for, so we lost it and had to drive cars, which would break down in the snow. I was sick for two years after that. Exhausted. Debilitated. Demoralized. I believed in it, and I thought it was going to happen; it was so great, who could not like it? But it turned out that very few people did like it. Those were dark days.”

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

 

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The Very Thing That Makes You Rich Makes Me Poor

Sharon Robinson Reflects on Touring With Leonard Cohen ~ RollingStone

The co-writer of “Everybody Knows” and “Waiting for the Miracles” looks back on the celebrated Grand Tour of 2008 to 2013

Sharon Robinson, Leonard Cohen Sharon Robinson, Leonard Cohen last tour

Sharon Robinson, Leonard Cohen’s longtime songwriting partner and backup singer, looks back on their years on the road together.  Jillian Edelstein/Camera Press/Redux

 

Leonard Cohen worked with a lot of gifted collaborators during his five-decade career, but none shared a bond with the late artist that could match Sharon Robinson’s. She first toured with him as a backup singer in 1979 and soon became his songwriting partner of choice, sharing credit on classics like “Everybody Knows” and “Waiting for the Miracle” in addition to every single track on 2001’s Ten New Songs.

About 10 years ago, he turned to her when his dwindling finances forced him back onto the road at age 74 for a tour that ultimately stretched across five incredible years. It began in tiny Canadian theaters, but soon hit enormous arenas all over the world as the overwhelming buzz forced them to add leg after leg. We spoke to Robinson earlier this year when Rolling Stone named the tour one of the 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 years. Here is our complete conversation with her about the Grand Tour of 2008 to 2013.

Before Leonard reached out to you about the tour, were you under the impression that he’d never perform live again?
Yeah. I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t expecting to be touring again. But in 2007, we were working on some material that wound up on Old Ideas. He came over to me one day and said, “Sharon, I think I’m going to have to go on tour. My bank accounts are empty. I went to the ATM and I couldn’t get any money out.” That came as a real surprise, not something he was prepared for or expecting.

How did things go from there? It must have been a lot of work to get the ball rolling on that.
He started to work with his musical director Roscoe Beck and they began putting a band together. I wasn’t initially involved because Leonard hadn’t really decided what he wanted to do about singers. And then one day, he and Roscoe called me to come in and just sing with some other singers. They were trying to feel their way and figure out what they were doing. So, I came in a few times and worked with some other people and nothing was really gelling. I had worked with the Webb Sisters on some other stuff and I recommended them. That worked out really well.

As rehearsals wound up and you prepped for opening night, did you feel you guys had created something special?
We did. In rehearsals, we were getting to some really beautiful moments with the music and it seemed to be a cast that was really working well together. But we didn’t know what was going to happen in terms of an audience. Leonard was very unsure of whether he still had an audience at this point.

Right. This is a guy that never had anything resembling a radio hit. He was really far off the cultural radar in 2008.
Obviously, it did work out well and the audiences just grew and grew. But he wasn’t a pop star by any stretch of the imagination. That was the irony of the whole thing. Eventually we were doing arenas. We did some stadiums. Leonard was attracting a very wide audience, and that was unheard of for a non-radio pop star.

I remember seeing him at the Hall of Fame earlier in 2008 and he looked very frail. I was worried a tour would be too much for him, but when he walked onstage he was just pulsating with energy. Did you feel that transformation?
I did. I was surprised once we started by the showmanship aspect of it. And I don’t mean that in a shallow way. He was sincerely committed to putting on the best possible show, and he believed in the physical part of it as well. He believed in the most committed delivery of a song that he could do. I mean, the fact that he was older and starting to look kind of frail, that became part of the story. It certainly was for me standing a few feet away from him at every show. It was amazed as well.

So many parts of the show just left me stunned. He’d wear a suit for three-and-a-half hours and appear not to even sweat. He’d drop to his knees over and over, and then skip offstage before the encores with a huge grin on his face.
[Laughs] Every time he’d skip past myself and the Webb Sisters, we would sort look at each other and chuckle because it was highly entertaining, even for us.

Did it stun you that they kept booking it into bigger and bigger places?
Yeah, it was fascinating that it kept going. I mean, at the end of every leg of the tour we thought, “OK, this has got to be it. This is it, right?” And they were like, “We’re going to Australia!” or “We’re going to Canada!” or wherever. It just kept going to a degree that surprised everyone. But then again, after a while we stopped being surprised because we felt the effect it was having on the audience. People just loved it.

There were obviously breaks, but for the greater part of five years you lived out of a suitcase. Did you ever think to yourself, “God, I just want to go home?”
Those moments definitely did happen. The lifestyle is, as you said, extremely exhausting. There are times where you’re in some amazing city and you can’t leave your hotel room because you have to save up your energy for the show since you traveled the day before. It’s a very exhausting lifestyle. There were times near the end of the tour where I’d find myself walking into a hotel room thinking, “I wish I was home.”

How did Leonard find the energy to travel like that?
Well, Leonard was really good at conserving his strength, blocking out distractions and prioritizing his energy for the things he wanted to do, such as the show or writing. He lived an almost monastic lifestyle when he wasn’t living as a monk. He kept things really simple. He kept his interactions with people to a minimum.

The team there was obviously very good at protecting him. He didn’t do interviews, meet and greets or anything that would drain his energy.
Exactly. He wouldn’t see people when we were on tour. Occasionally, we were really surprised when on some random night he would stay after a show and visit with people. But for the most part he didn’t do that. He was right off the stage and right into a car and straight to the hotel.

 

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

JOHN PRINE ~ The Washington Post

(Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)
APRIL 8, 2020

“Everything happened so fast for me.” Songwriter John Prine said this in one of many late-life interviews, when the glow of sunset warmed his disfigured grin, itself a map of battles fought and deep, wry knowledge. He had survived throat cancer and lung cancer to produce an album called “The Tree of Forgiveness.” But whatever there was to forgive, it paled beside what there was to celebrate.

For Prine, that started with the blinding flash at the beginning of his career. In 1970, he was a working-class guy, fresh from the Army and lugging the mail in Maywood, Ill. He wrote songs in his head as he walked, and sang them for free at open mic night at a folk club in Chicago. Word got around. Open mic night turned into a regular gig. And there he was on a Friday night in October when a young movie critic named Roger Ebert walked in for a drink and walked out with a rave review.

“Things just got better from then on,” Prine once told an interviewer. Within a year of that first review, Prine had dazzled the crown prince of Nashville songwriters, Kris Kristofferson, and caught the ear of the king himself, Bob Dylan, who stirred from his reclusion to back up Prine on harmonica. Prine had hit-machine Paul Anka for a manager and a first-album deal with Atlantic Records. That first record landed, not on the charts, but in the Americana music history books: an instant classic, the rare debut that, in the words of “Rolling Stone,” feels “like a greatest-hits compilation.”

“Twenty-four years old and writes like he’s two hundred and twenty,” Kristofferson wrote in the liner notes. There was a lot of truth in that. Prine wrote as if he had already lived many lives in many souls. “I am an old woman, named after my mother,” he declared in “Angel From Montgomery.” “Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more,” said one half of a lonely old couple in “Hello in There.” And in “Sam Stone,” he channeled both the morphine-addicted war veteran of the title and Stone’s neglected kids, seeing all and missing nothing: “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where the money goes.”

That was probably Prine’s most famous line. Indeed, the hole in Daddy’s arm was such an arresting image, so plainly stated, that Prine became a voice of the anti-Vietnam movement without really trying. It was another one of those things that happened so fast.

Some artists are searingly witty; their cleverness electrifies; they hit just the right word and elicit a gasp or a laugh or both. Some artists are achingly sincere; they see and feel more than the rest of us and follow their revelations with utter faithfulness. Prine was both at the same time — among the rarest of artistic aptitudes. The line about Daddy’s arm was both joltingly clever and utterly sincere. Prine held these competing values in equipoise throughout his long career, and the perfect balance was so powerful that of course the world discovered him quickly. Such a genial, humane genius is difficult to miss.

 

His own audiences were bigger at the end than they had ever been. Prine sold out Radio City Music Hall. He sang duets with Stephen Colbert. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys to go with his two earlier Grammy Awards. “The Tree of Forgiveness” reached No. 5 on the Billboard album charts.

“I just John-Prined the song up,” he told Gross of another gem, called “Boundless Love.” Some lyrics he had worked on years earlier were sitting in his files, needing something. Something witty, yet sincere. He wrote: “Sometimes my old heart is like a washing machine. / It bounces around til my soul comes clean. / And when I’m clean and hung out to dry, / I’m gonna make you laugh until you cry.”

Or cry until we laugh. Or laugh and cry simultaneously. That was the essence of John-Prining it up. There will be a lot of both, the laughing and the crying, among the many fans of John Prine, in celebrating and mourning a rare poet of American song.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Watch And Weep: John Prine And Bonnie Raitt Perform ‘Angel From Montgomery’

John Prine’s 2019 performance of “Angel from Montgomery” alongside Bonnie Raitt was one of the late Americana pioneer’s iconic, genre-defining moments at the event.

Courtesy of the Americana Music Association

 

 

John Prine, who died Tuesday from complications of COVID-19, was a foundational figure, guiding light and embodying spirit of Americana music. In recent years his presence at the annual Americana Music Honors and Awards, held every September at Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium, defined that event. Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, reflected upon Prine’s passing:

When John Prine became ill with the virus that would take his life, I was asked to write about why the man is important. I don’t have that way with words. His impact is so deep, and not just to those of us who know him. A few years ago, as John walked on stage unannounced to present an award at the Ryman, the crowd rose to its feet, not allowing him to speak. As the applause died down John stepped up to the podium and said, amused, “I was gonna come out and tell you who I was.” John Prine was a hero — truly an American treasure. He was our pied piper, our revered monk, our soothsayer. What John said, went. He had this magical way of making everyone around him feel special, whether you knew him personally or not. He could share his extraordinary being on such a personal level that fans felt like they knew him. He was their friend, their personal special find, their treasure. Knowing him has been an honor of my lifetime. He was the most humble, kind, funny and real soul on the planet.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

John Prine, One of America’s Greatest Songwriters, Dead at 73 ~ RollingStone

Hand me down my walking’ cane
It’s a sin to tell a lie
Send my mouth way down south
And kiss my ass goodbyeJohn Prine

RIP
image.png
Grammy-winning singer who combined literary genius with a common touch succumbs to coronavirus complications
john prine obit

John Prine, the Grammy-winning singer who combined literary genius with a common touch, has died at 73 from coronavirus complications  Charlie Gillett Collection/Getty Images

John Prine, who for five decades wrote rich, plain-spoken songs that chronicled the struggles and stories of everyday working people and changed the face of modern American roots music, died Tuesday at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He was 73. The cause was complications related to COVID-19, his family confirmed to Rolling Stone.

Prine, who left behind an extraordinary body of folk-country classics, was hospitalized last month after the sudden onset of COVID-19 symptoms, and was placed in intensive care for 13 days. Prine’s wife and manager, Fiona, announced on March 17th that she had tested positive for the virus after they had returned from a European tour.

As a songwriter, Prine was admired by Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and others, known for his ability to mine seemingly ordinary experiences  — he wrote many of his classics as a mailman in Maywood, Illinois — for revelatory songs that covered the full spectrum of the human experience. There’s “Hello in There,” about the devastating loneliness of an elderly couple; “Sam Stone,” a portrait of a drug-addicted Vietnam soldier suffering from PTSD; and “Paradise,” an ode to his parents’ strip-mined hometown of Paradise, Kentucky, which became an environmental anthem. Prine tackled these subjects with empathy and humor, with an eye for “the in-between spaces,” the moments people don’t talk about, he told Rolling Stone in 2017.  “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” Dylan said in 2009. “Midwestern mind-trips to the nth degree.”

Though he was an underground singer-songwriter for most of his career, Prine had a remarkable final act. In 2018, he released The Tree of Forgiveness, his first album of original material in 13 years. The album went to Number Five on the Billboard 200, the highest debut of his career, and he played some of his biggest shows ever, including a sold-out tour kickoff at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The album was released on Oh Boy Records, the independent label Prine started with his longtime manager, business partner, and friend Al Bunetta. In recent years, Prine, his wife, and son Jody ran the label out of a small Nashville home office.

Prine’s string of acclaimed solo albums began with his self-titled 1971 debut on Atlantic Records, featuring a tracklist that reads like a greatest-hits compilation: “Illegal Smile,” “Spanish Pipedream,” “Hello in There,” “Sam Stone,” “Paradise,” “Donald and Lydia,” “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” and “Angel From Montgomery” among them. Throughout his career, Prine explored a wide variety of musical styles, from hard country to rockabilly to bluegrass; he liked to say that he tried to live in a space somewhere between his heroes Johnny Cash and Dylan.

Prine was born in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, Illinois. His father was a tool and die maker and the president of the local steelworkers union, and raised John and his three brothers on the music of Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Hank Williams, and other heroes of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. Though he was a poor student, Prine was a natural songwriter; two songs he wrote when he was 14, “Sour Grapes” and “The Frying Pan,” ended up on his LP Diamonds in the Rough, more than 10 years later. Prine had a restless imagination — “I would go to class and just stare at something like a button on the teacher’s shirt,” he said — but he excelled at hobbies he focused on, like gymnastics, which he was inspired to take up by his older brother, Doug. “Here was something I had no natural ability in, and I could do it well,” Prine said.

After graduating high school in 1964, Prine took the advice of his oldest brother, Dave, and became a mailman. Wandering around the Chicago suburbs, Prine wrote many of his classic early songs. During his postman years, he wrote “Donald and Lydia,” about a couple who “make love from 10 miles away,” and “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” a humorous indictment of misguided patriotism, after he noticed that locals were posting American flag decals that were included in an issue of Reader’s Digest around the neighborhood.

Prine was forced to take a hiatus from his postal career when he was drafted into the Army in late 1966, just as the Vietnam War was heating up. But instead of being sent to Vietnam, Prine lucked out and was sent to Stuttgart, West Germany, where he worked as a mechanical engineer. Prine played down his military service, describing his contribution as “drinking beer and pretending to fix trucks,” as he told Rolling Stone. But the experience did bring him to write maybe his greatest song: “Sam Stone.” The ballad is about a soldier who comes home from the war mentally shattered, turning to morphine to ease the pain. “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,” Prine sings in the chorus, “Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose.”

“I was trying to say something about our soldiers who’d go over to Vietnam, killing people and not knowing why you were there,” Prine told Rolling Stone in 2018. “And then a lot of soldiers came home and got hooked on drugs and never could get off of it. I was just trying to think of something as hopeless as that. My mind went right to ‘Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose.’ I said, ‘That’s pretty hopeless.’ ” When Johnny Cash covered the song, he rewrote the chorus, changing “Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose,” to “Daddy must have hurt a lot back then, I suppose.” (“If it hadn’t have been Johnny Cash,” Prine said, “I would’ve said, ‘Are you nuts?’”)

Prine became an immediate sensation on the Chicago folk scene. On the day before his 24th birthday, he was performing at Chicago’s Fifth Peg when the now-iconic Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert walked in. Ebert’s headline, ‘Singing Mailman Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few Words,’ led to sold-out rooms. Soon, Prine’s friend and musical partner Steve Goodman convinced Kris Kristofferson and Paul Anka to drop by to see Prine play at the Earl of Old Town in the summer of 1971.

“It was too damned late, and we had an early wake-up ahead of us, and by the time we got there, Old Town was nothing but empty streets and dark windows,” Kristofferson later wrote in the liner notes for Prine’s first album. “And the club was closing. But the owner let us come in, pulled some chairs off a couple of tables, and John unpacked his guitar and got back up to sing. … By the end of the first line we knew we were hearing something else. It must’ve been like stumbling onto Dylan when he first busted onto the Village scene.”

 

“He was incredibly endearing and witty,” Raitt told Rolling Stone in 2016. She met Prine in the early Seventies and first covered “Angel From Montgomery” in 1974. “The combination of being that tender and that wise and that astute, mixed with his homespun sense of humor — it was probably the closest thing for those of us that didn’t get the blessing of seeing Mark Twain in person.”

While Prine may have been signed to Atlantic Records, he did not conform to pop music’s rules. His follow-up to his self-titled album, 1972’s Diamonds in the Rough, was a stripped-down acoustic album that paid homage to his Appalachian bluegrass roots, which he recorded with his brother Dave for around “$7,200 including beer.” Prine likened the major-label system to a bank “for high-finance loans. You could go to a bank and do the same thing for less money and put a loan behind your career instead of a major label throwing parties for you and charging you, and giving you the ticket and not asking what you want to eat.”

Feeling that the label could have done more to promote the hard-edged 1975 album Common Sense, he asked co-founder Ahmet Ertegun to let him out of his contract. Ertegun agreed, and Prine moved to David Geffen’s smaller Asylum label for 1978’s excellent Bruised Orange, which was produced by Goodman, with classics like “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round” (later covered by Miranda Lambert) and the heartbreaking “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone,” a meditation on loneliness from the point of view of 1930s film star Sabu Dastagir. “When I wrote that one and ‘Jesus the Missing Years,’ ” Prine recently told Rolling Stone, “I was afraid to sing them for somebody else. I thought they were going to look at me and say, ‘You’ve done it. You’ve crossed the line. You need the straitjacket.’ But if I let it sit for a couple weeks and it still affects me, it’s something I would like to hear somebody say, then I figure, my instinct is as good as a normal person. I would like to hear that somebody do that, so I just go ahead and jump into it.”

Prine’s offbeat odyssey continued with Pink Cadillac, a rockabilly album he made with Sam Phillips and Phillips’ sons Jerry and Knox. By 1982, Prine decided to follow the path of his friend Goodman and start his own label, Oh Boy Records, with Bunetta. Following a Christmas single, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”/”Silver Bells,” Prine’s first LP release was 1984’s Aimless Love. The business model, with fans sending in checks by mail, was a success, and early proof that singer-songwriters could survive without the support of a major label. “He created the job I have,” said songwriter Todd Snider, who released his early albums on Oh Boy. “Especially when he went to his own label, and started doing it with his own family and team. Before him, there was nothing for someone like Jason Isbell to aspire to, besides maybe Springsteen.”

In 1989, Sony offered to buy Oh Boy, an offer Prine turned down. Two years later, he scored one of the biggest successes of his career with 1991’s The Missing Years. Produced by Howie Epstein of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, it featured guest appearances by Petty, Springsteen, and Raitt. The title track, “Jesus the Missing Years” is one of Prine’s most ambitious songs, attempting to fill in the 18-year gap (from age 12 to 29) in Jesus Christ’s life unaccounted for in the Bible. It won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

In 1988, Prine was in Ireland when he met Fiona Whelan, a Dublin recording-studio business manager. She soon moved to Nashville and they married in April 1996. By then, she had given birth to their two sons, Jack and Tommy. “It brought me right down to earth,” Prine said. “I was a dreamer. I learned real fast I don’t know anything except songwriting.” Prine also adopted Jody Whelan, Fiona’s son from a previous relationship. Jody and Fiona would eventually become Prine’s co-managers, overseeing the most commercially successful moment in his career.

This idyllic chapter of Prine’s life was complicated in 1997 when, during the sessions for In Spite of Ourselves — a successful duets album with women, including Iris DeMent, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Patty Loveless — Prine discovered a cancerous growth on his neck. It was stage 4 cancer. “I felt fine,” Prine said later. “It doesn’t hit you until you pull up to the hospital and you see ‘cancer’ in big letters, and you’re the patient. Then it all kind of comes home.”

In January 1998, doctors removed a small tumor, taking a portion of the singer’s neck with it, altering his physical appearance. Prine thought he might never sing again. However, after a year and a half, he returned to performing, with a small show in Bristol, Tennessee. “The crowd was with me. Boy, were they with me,” he said. “And I think I shook everybody’s hand afterward. I knew right then and there that I could do it.”

The next decade brought Prine another Grammy for 2005’s Fair & Square. That year, Prine joined Ted Kooser, 13th Poet Laureate of the United States, becoming the first artist to read and play at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Prine saw his already formidable influence reach another generation of artists, including Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, and Kacey Musgraves.

In 2013, Prine was again sidelined briefly, diagnosed with a spot on his left lung. Six months after the cancer was removed, he was back on the road. Following Buntta’s 2015 death, Prine became sole owner and president of Oh Boy Records, which has also been home to recordings by Snider, Dan Reeder, R.B. Morris, and Heather Eatman, among others.

His last studio album, The Tree of Forgiveness, was released in April 2018, just six months after he was named the Americana Music Association’s Artist of the Year. Rolling Stone said the album had “all the qualities that have defined him as one of America’s greatest songwriters.”

Prine attended the Grammys in January, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award. The singer could be seen on television with his family, grinning and wearing sunglasses, as Bonnie Raitt sang “Angel From Montgomery.” Last year, Prine was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Onstage, he summed up why he chose a life as a songwriter: “I gotta say, there’s no better feeling than having a killer song in your pocket, and you’re the only one in the world who’s heard it.”

~~~

John Prine, Who Chronicled the Human Condition in Song, Dies at 73 ~ NYT

The folk singer and songwriter with a raspy voice and an offbeat humor was revered by peers including Bob Dylan.

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

John Prine, the raspy-voiced country-folk singer whose ingenious lyrics to songs by turns poignant, angry and comic made him a favorite of Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and others, died Tuesday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. He was 73.

The cause was complications from Covid-19, his family said.

Mr. Prine underwent cancer surgery in 1998 to remove a tumor in his neck identified as squamous cell cancer, which had damaged his vocal cords. In 2013, he had part of one lung removed to treat lung cancer.

Mr. Prine was a relative unknown in 1970 when Mr. Kristofferson heard him play one night at a small Chicago club called the Fifth Peg, dragged there by the singer-songwriter Steve Goodman. Mr. Kristofferson was performing in Chicago at the time at the Quiet Knight. At the Fifth Peg, Mr. Prine treated him to a brief after-hours performance of material that, Mr. Kristofferson later wrote, “was unlike anything I’d heard before.”

~~~

Singer-Songwriter John Prine Dies At 73

John Prine, one of America’s most revered singer-songwriters, has died after being hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. Prine wrote beloved songs like “Hello In There” and “Angel From Montgomery.”

 

~~~

John Prine’s Songs Saw The Whole Of Us ~ NPR

John Prine in Atlanta in 1975.

Tom Hill/Getty Images

 

 

When I heard that John Prine was dead, and would never be going to Arnold’s Country Kitchen again to nab the last piece of banana cream pie; and that I’d never stand in a packed room full of old hippies and young hipsters and just plain folks and bellow out the words to “In Spite of Ourselves” as he chuckled at all of us; that I’d never meet another young songwriter who’d recently been blessed the wisdom he offered as Nashville’s most generous mentor; that old friends like Bonnie Raitt would never grinningly match his pothole-filled vocals in a perfect duet; that all over the world people are pouring out Handsome Johnnys (diet ginger ale and vodka, preferably Smirnoff) and mourning the loss of the singer-songwriter they all felt was a friend — at first I said, no. This cannot be.

My hometown of Nashville can’t continue to exist without him in the corner of nearly every musical frame, from the mural adorned with his scrunchy face and the words STAY INDEPENDENT on the side wall of Grimey’s record shop to the stages and studios where artists like Miranda Lambert and Jason Isbell have tried to live up to his example. Storytelling itself, at least the kind involving guitars, feels a bit endangered without Prine’s gimlet eye guiding it. He hadn’t been well, off and on, for many years, but he also seemed oddly indestructible. Everyone’s love and need for his presence wove protection around him.

But we are living in a time when no concept of protection seems adequate. Acknowledging that, I turned to Prine’s music. This is how we honor our losses as music fans: by holding close the recordings that keep a voice resonant past mortality. Leafing through the pile of some of the best-named albums in history — Bruised Orange, German Afternoons, Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings, The Singing Mailman Delivers — I stopped at the familiar favorites, the trenchant views into regular lives like the addict’s elegy “Sam Stone” and the lonely elder’s lament “Hello In There,” and thought about how they’d choked me up so often. I considered the gospel prayer of “Angel From Montgomery” and the patriarch’s poem “Summer’s End.” But it turned out I didn’t want to hear any of those, not right away. I wanted to hear “Sweet Revenge.”

“Sweet Revenge” is, on the surface, pretty ridiculous. It’s the title track from Prine’s third album, the one with the cover portrait of him with his feet on the upholstery in a convertible he bought with the money from his first two. The song’s a rocking account of newfound success that immediately detours toward hilarity. It conveys cockeyed optimism with a smear of darkness dirtying the frame. “I got kicked off Noah’s ark,” Prine sings like some shaggy Don Quixote. “There were two of everything but one of me.” The wisecracks keep coming as the band choogles behind him and Cissy Houston adds some gospel harmonies. The narrator cozies up to an English teacher on a plane who doesn’t like his jokes about red balloons, hears his own songs on the radio, and keeps things weird. “The white meat is on the run and the dark meat is far too done,” Prine croaks, whatever that means. It doesn’t matter. What it means is that life makes no obvious sense, but people can make stories from the random-seeming joy and pain it offers, and share them with each other, and do a lot more than muddle through.

Prine’s songs claimed sweet revenge by making room for the wide range of emotions that careen through people as they stumble and dance through life. Those beloved ballads, weepers that showed his affinity for classic country tropes, included lines that made the mixed-up humanity of their subjects perfectly clear. The poeticism in “Angel From Montgomery” gains power because the lonely wife narrating is also so relatably peevish: she longs for divine intervention, but when she complains of her husband, “How the hell can a person go to work in the morning and come home in the evening and have nothing to say,” she’s as headachy and unable to rise above things as anyone. Even “Sam Stone,” to many a perfect story song with the arc of a Greek tragedy, revolves around an image that’s almost sweet in its childlike fancifulness: “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes.” And then comes the anti-prayer, recognizable to anyone who’s felt hope cut to the bone: “And Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose.” I suppose. John Prine captured people in those moments of supposing when life gets really small and almost impossible, but then another thought occurs. A laugh, or a dignified response, or even a sense of blessing.

No song captures Prine’s unpretentious magnanimity better, as I hear it, than his 1995 epic “Lake Marie.” It’s a hymn that’s also a tale as tall as they come. A palimpsest of tales, in fact, from Native American myth to true crime (its bucolic setting causes Prine’s narrator to recall several unsolved murders he heard about as a youth) to an intimate account of a spiraling romance. One layer of the song laps across the surface of another like the waters of its titular Wisconsin lake – a scrawny lake, in pure Prine fashion, beautiful mostly because that’s how a couple on the verge of disaster saw it one memorable day. As the stories wash ashore and get tangled in each other, the song’s key line — “We were standing by peaceful waters” — reveals itself as both a bitter irony and the narrator’s route to redemption. “All the love we shared between her and me was slammed, slammed up against the banks of Old Lake Marie,” Prine moans, a man making poetry of the worst situation, because that’s what you do to survive it.

Prine maintained hope in the power of imagination throughout his songwriting career, right up to the songs on Tree of Forgiveness, his 18th and final studio album. He still spoke in the voice of the regular Joe and Jane, and he continued to dream, irreverently. He lamented our time as, possibly, an end time, but he still believed in the solace of looking within. The album’s highlight is a classic Prine shaggy-dog story, “The Lonesome Friends of Science,” and it’s an ideal send-off for our most grounded dreamer. “The lonesome friends of science say, ‘The world will end most any day,'” Prine intones in a voice bent out of shape by time and hardship, but still somehow luminous.

Well, if it does, then that’s okay
‘Cause I don’t live here anyway
I live down deep inside my head
Where
long ago I made my bed
I get my mail in Tennessee
My wife, my dog, and my family

John Prine no longer gets his mail in Tennessee, and that’s a loss that will continue to hurt. But he gave us the gift of his head, and his heart, and we can all still visit there, as long as we have our own, and rejuvenate.

~~

John Prine’s 15 Essential Songs ~ NYT

He showed how much humor you could put in a song and still be taken seriously. The singer and songwriter died of complications of Covid-19 at 73.

Credit…Kyle Dean Reinford for The New York Times

By

John Prine was an Army veteran walking a U.S. Postal Service beat in Chicago and writing songs on the side when Kris Kristofferson heard him and helped spread the word about Prine’s gifts. Pretty soon, he resigned as a letter carrier; his supervisor snickered, “You’ll be back.” Nearly 50 years later, this January, he was given a lifetime achievement Grammy for his contributions to songwriting. The singing mailman almost always had the last laugh.

Prine, who died on Tuesday from complications of the coronavirus, was legitimately unique. He took familiar blues themes — my baby left me — but filled them with whimsy and kindness. He liked a saucy lyric, and wrote movingly, in character, of the quiet lives and loneliness of humdrum people. He seemed like a Zen sage and offered an uncynical live-and-let-live morality in his songs, writing in a colloquial voice that revealed a love of the way Americans speak. He showed how much humor you could put in a song and still be taken seriously. He had less in common with any other songwriter than he did with Mark Twain.

He grew up in Maywood, a western suburb of Chicago, and was reared by working-class parents from Kentucky, where he often spent summers with relatives and fell in love with country music and bluegrass. By 13, he was performing in rural jamborees. When he debuted in 1971, in his mid-20s, he sounded like an old man already, so years later, when he got old and went through two cancer treatments, he still sounded like himself. From his first to his last, he wrote songs that were tender, hilarious, and wise, without grandstanding any of these traits. Here are 15 of the best.

John Prine, Who Chronicled the Human Condition in Song, Dies at 73
A singer and songwriter with a raspy voice and a gift for offbeat humor, he was revered by his peers, including Bob Dylan. He died of the coronavirus.

“Angel From Montgomery,” his best-known song, begins with a little declarative startle: “I am an old woman, named after my mother.” It’s an incisive and terrifying look at the dissatisfactions of a bad marriage and a woman’s sense of being economically trapped in her misery. Bonnie Raitt recorded it three years later and uncovered some of the song’s dormant melodies.