You may not know who John Prine is, but you know his music. Just about everybody and their dog has covered his songs.
By everyone I mean the likes of Bette Midler, Loretta Lynn, REM, John Denver, Kasey Chambers, Todd Snider, Steve Goodman, Nanci Griffith, Johnny Cash, George Strait, John Mellencamp, Tammy Wynette, Carl Perkins, Carly Simon and oh yeah, Bonnie Raitt.
Over the Rhine sang that “if a song could be president / John Prine would run the FBI / All the criminals would laugh and cry.” And they’re probably right.
What these fine artists and many others have discovered is one of the greatest songwriters to put a pen to paper. He was a postman, was in the army and somewhere along the way started writing songs. He’s not exactly the darling of the Billboard Charts but he’s won a roomful of awards and his fans are seriously devoted (the main fan site is called “J.P. Shrine“.)
He’s got funny songs:
Dear Abby – Dear Abby, Dear Abby / My feet are too long / My hair’s falling out and my rights are all wrong
Let’s Talk Dirty In Hawaiian – Waka waka nuka licka, waka waka nuka licka / would you like a lei? Eh?
Aw Heck – The cannibals can catch me and fry me in a pan / long as I got my woman
Onomatopoeia – Bang! went the pistol / Crash! went the window / Ouch! went the son of a gun. (Seriously. The man wrote a song about onomatopoeias – how often do you even use that word??)
He’s got political songs:
Flag Decal – But your flag decal won’t get you / Into Heaven any more / They’re already overcrowded / From your dirty little war
Paradise – Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel / And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Some Humans Ain’t Human – Or you’re feeling your freedom / And the world’s off your back / Some cowboy from Texas / Starts his own war in Iraq
He’s got songs that’ll make you smile:
Long Monday – Soul to soul / Heart to heart / And cheek to cheek / Come on baby / Give me a kiss / That’ll last all week
Fish and Whistle – Father forgive us for what we must do / You forgive us / We’ll forgive You / We’ll forgive each other till we both turn blue / Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven
Big Old Goofy World – She’d sing like an angel / And eat like a bird
And if I wrote a song / She’d know ever single word
He’s got songs that’ll make you tear up:
Sam Stone – There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes / Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose / Little pitchers have big ears / Don’t stop to count the years / Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios
Angel From Montgomery – When I was a young girl well, I had me a cowboy / He weren’t much to look at, just free rambling man / But that was a long time and no matter how I try / The years just flow by like a broken down dam
Unwed Fathers – From an teenage lover, to an unwed mother / Kept undercover, like some bad dream / While unwed fathers, they can’t be bothered / They run like water, through a mountain stream
With some 20 albums, including the more recent, Standard Songs for Average People with Mac Wiseman (2007) and the 2006 Grammy winner, Fair & Square there’s lots of material to choose from. And since he’s recovered from his brush with cancer nearly seven years ago, it seems he’s been either on the road or in the studio. You can catch him this summer with assorted guests including Iris Dement, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Peter Case and a special date with Emmylou Harris at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado.