Artists Share Their Memories of John Prine

The passing of John Prine on April 7th sparked several of his contemporaries, friends and fans to take to social media with their thoughts and remembrances of one of America’s greatest songwriters. We’ve included a few of them here.

John Prine - John Prine Album Cover

The first came to me from country singer/songwriter Heidi Newfield, formerly of the group Trick Pony, whose new album The Barfly Sessions, is due out August 28th.

“My first ever live concert at the esteemed ‘mother church’  The Ryman Auditorium was John Prine…and I sat there like a school kid waiting for the spring break bell, I was so excited…he did all his greatest hits, but at that time (around 1995)…he was especially pushing his newest body of work, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings.

I believe I had a spiritual awakening when I heard him and his full band do ‘Lake Marie’ for the first time, in THAT venue. I mean, my soul shook. Funny thing is, I still feel that way EVERY time I hear it now, long after….just like I do when I hear ‘Ain’t Hurtin Nobody,’ ‘All the Way with You,’ ‘We Are the Lonely,’  ‘I Love you So Much It Hurts,’ and ‘This Love is Real’. There’s not a weak song on the whole damn record, but then….that was John. He was one of those lyrical untouchables, but every word, every single word, reached out and touched you. He was the epitome of real. All those great songs, all those great records, such a lovely man…such a gentle soul. Good God!!!

We cried in our kitchen tonight when we found out he’d passed away. Matt and I both realized we’d only met him once each, but both experiences equally important enough to remember for life. John remembered your name. He made such tender-hearted eye contact,  he shook your hand and made you feel like you were long lost family. He wasn’t a show-boater or a grand-stander and he didn’t seem like he had much use for those that were.

He wrote simple songs with fairly simple chords about real life things, but NOBODY could do em like he could. You could tell he had a mind that was deep as the deepest well and that’s why writing simple songs is so complex. It’s flat out hard to say the smayer daname ol’ thing and make it sound new, fresh, genuine, and poetic. John Prine was one of my all time favorite poets. The world will be one less honorable and talented man going forward. One less legend. Selfishly, I’d just wished I’d have gotten to sit and share lunch with him at his favorite meat and three where we met once, and visit a spell….or sing a duet with him….and watch him do his thing from a few feet away, I’ll always be a little extra sad about that. I wish love and support to his wife Fiona and his family during this confusing time in our universe. Bless you all. 

One of the all time favorite quotes from the movie Daddy and Them was a line John so perfectly and timely delivered:

‘Don’t never let it be too late…’

John Prine, you were right on time, and you touched the hearts of every set of ears that got to hear you. Until we meet again, I look forward to that lunch.”

Peter Holsapple (of the dB’s and R.E.M.) had this to say:

“My world, the world of songwriters and guitar pickers, is reeling from the death of John Prine yesterday. We labor at our craft in hopes we can attain some vague approximation of the easy genius of his songs.

John Lennon said the artist’s role is as ‘a reflection of us all,’ and no one did that with as much facility as Prine, in my opinion. From Mr. Peabody’s coal train to a poster of an old rodeo to hammering nails in planks to hair so unnaturally curled, any listener could relate to his characters and his takes on love and life. There was a plain generality to it, but it was filled with so many tiny bejeweled details that addressed the specific as well. And oh, the emotion from that road-worn beat-up voice. The real thing in every respect.

We are left with a catalog of his songs, a phalanx of his albums and minds full of memories to assuage this loss as best we can. It’s so vast, yet I think we all hoped for even more from John, had his life not been cut short.

We will have to learn to be satisfied with what we have and to revel in all of it.

We hoped for a miracle that did not come for John; and when it didn’t happen, he accidentally became someone in one of his own songs.”

Rock/Folk/Blues artist Peter Himmelman (who is about to release a new album, Press On) shared:

“In the summer of 1973, days after I’d seen my first rock concert (Grand Funk Railroad), Steve Leder, my friend and band mate, took me downstairs to his teen lair and played me John Prine’s ‘Dear Abby.’ ‘Whaddya think,’ he asked. ‘Country’ I thought. ‘I hate country.’ Steve picked up the needle and played the song again. And once more after that. I started to hear something in those lyrics; John Prine was speaking to me. He was wry, he made me smile, he was doing something different. It wasn’t Grand Funk. It wasn’t Alice Cooper or The Rolling Stones either. With just his acoustic guitar and a ragged voice it became clear that you didn’t need stacks of Marshall amps to blow people away. You needed only to mine the minutiae of living and take careful notes to make people feel the weight of their humanity.” 

Americana artist James McMurtry, (His song “Choctaw Bingo” is possibly the closest thing I’ve ever heard to a John Prine song) who was once in a “supergroup” called Buzzin’ Cousins with Prine, John Mellencamp, Joe Ely, and Dwight Yoakam, shared a personal moment:

“More than once, I saw Prine get so tickled with himself he couldn’t keep his teeth in his mouth, the grin would overtake him, but he’d keep talking anyway. I remember him pointing at the TV screen one night in the early nineties. The news was showing clips of the crowd at a folk festival that had taken place that afternoon and the people looked like they were trying to re-create Woodstock, headbands, tie dye, the usual. Prine said, ‘Look at them out there trying to be hippies. There’s not a cavity in that whole crowd. I never met a hippie chick didn’t have a mouth full of rotten teeth.’ John Prine was a realist.”

Our final remembrance comes from blues/folk/gospel great Ruthie Foster whose achievements include induction in the Texas Music Hall of Fame, 3 GRAMMY nominations, and 9 Blues Music Awards (7 of which were the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year):

“John Prine was one of the most introspective songwriters of our time.

I was introduced to John Prine’s songs while on Navy leave in a small club in Charleston, SC many years ago. Songs like ‘Dear Abbey’ and ‘Sam Stone’ drew me in as a fan of great lyrics. But ‘Hello In There’ and ‘Angel From Montgomery’ stole my heart and became my favorites.

John Prine not only inspired me to be a songwriter, but to want to be a better songwriter. I’m still working on that…

Rest In Peace John.”

Heidi Newfield

Peter Holsapple

Peter Himmelman

James McMurtry

Ruthie Foster

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