"My brother Dave taught me a chord and the first time I held
down a chord I didn't muffle it, well, I just sat there with
my ear on the wood even after the sound died feeling the vibrations.
From there, it was me sitting there alone in a room singing
to a wall."
And what about his very first audience?
"Well, the wall seemed to like it." Prine says now with a twinkle
in his eye and his characteristic understatement. That wall
has an awful lot in common with countless people Prine has touched
his songs. He's certainly come a long way since he made his
first appearance at The Westlake Hospital in Maywood Illinois
on October 10, 1946, the son of tool and die maker William Mason
Prine and his wife Verna Valentine Hamm.
Being third in a family of four children meant that Prine "got
away with everything". which included the latitude of giving
his imagination free reign. Coupled with a childhood that was
rich with classic American values and traditions -- many which
would later be incorporated into his songs-like summertime visits
with his relatives in Paradise, Kentucky. While building this
foundation, Prine was also evolving from just another kid into
one of the young men hanging out on street corners of Maywood.
It may have seemed an unlikely nurturing ground for someone
who would become both a non-judgmental social commentator and
a champion of the common man.
It would take a stint in the U.S. Army in Germany and a job
with the Post Office before Prine would make his public debut
at an "open mic" night at a local bar fueled by a few beers
and the knowledge that he could do it better than everyone else
he'd seen that evening. "There were all these amateurs that
were getting up," Prine recalls, "and they were terrible. So
I started making some comments about it and the next thing I
knew somebody said, 'well, if you think you can do it better.'
I said 'I could' and got up on the stage and played 'Sam Stone',
'Hello In There' and 'Paradise' and people seemed to like it."
Including the club owner who promptly offered Prine a job. After
asking how long he'd have to play for, he went home and wrote
the rest of what was to become his first self-titled debut album.
It wasn't long before a little guy from Chicago named Steve
Goodman met Prine and would become his best friend as well as
being responsible for bringing Kris Kristofferson to The Earl
Of Old Town to see Prine.a move which would result in Prine's
gaining a national label deal.
From there, Prine went from being a local singer/songwriter
to being an artist on a national label, lavished with praise
from critics around the country. Throughout Prine's major label
migrations, which would eventually cover eight
albums and two companies, he continued refining his voice
and attracting fans who closely identified with his emotional
sharp shooting. "It's a great feeling when you put something
in a song and other people say that's exactly how they feel.
That's the most gratifying thing about songwriting for me: it's
always been a real outlet for me-being able to put those feeling
down. Among the songs that Prine wrote during this period were
such classics as "Please Don't Bury Me," "Fish And Whistle,"
and "Souvenirs"; and there were also the more humorous offerings
which proved that Prine could find the irony in it all: "Dear
Abby", "Sabu Visits The Twin Cities", "Illegal Smile", even
" Christmas In Prison."
But John Prine's special visions and personal integrity -- something
which attracted Bette Midler to cover "Hello In There", Bonnie
Raitt to adopt "Angel From Montgomery" as her own, and the numerous
country artists such as Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash to release
their versions of "Unwed Fathers" -- wasn't best served by the
big labels' way of doing business. He had his following, but
there had to be something else to making records.. So he called
it quits with the big companies and took some time to re-think
what he was doing. Out of that soul searching, Prine decided
to put on another hat -- record company executive.
After moving to Nashville in the early 1980's, he decided to
start making records his way. To that end Prine formed Oh
Boy records, a venture created with longtime manager Al
Bunetta and his associate Dan Einstein.
His first independent release in 1984, Aimless
Love, was followed up in 1986 by the Grammy nominated album
Afternoons, and the 1988 Grammy nominated John
Prine Live. Prine later won a Grammy for 1991's The
Missing Years, which featured appearances by Bruce Springsteen
and Tom Petty.and consequently became one of his best selling
albums to date. In 1995 he released Lost
Dogs & Mixed Blessings, followed in 1997 by Live
On Tour. 1999 saw the release of the Grammy nominated In
Spite Of Ourselves, an album comprised of classic country
lovin', leavin', and cheating songs, of which only the title
cut is a Prine original. Featuring duets with Lucinda Williams,
Trisha Yearwood, Melba Montgomery, Emmylou Harris, Dolores Keane,
Patty Loveless, Connie Smith and Fiona Prine.
released in 2000, is a group of re-recordings of many of Prine's
Classic tunes, many of which date back to his earliest days
of songwriting. September, 2001 marked the Oh Boy Records release
of it's first DVD Video project - John
Prine Live From Sessions At West 54th - which includes all
the entire hour special from the original PBS broadcast as well
as outtakes and an extensive one-on-one interview conducted
by series host John Hiatt. This DVD is one of the first releases
from an independent label to be mixed in 5.1 Dolby Surround
So now John Prine has the best of all worlds: a loyal following
and being able to make his music his way - doing whatever he
believes is best for his songs.
Oh Boy Records