Singer-songwriter John Prine dies of coronavirus at the age of 73. He was known for songs like “Angel from Montgomery,” “Hello in There,” “Sam Stone,” and scores of other works.
His family announced he passed away at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, where he had been hospitalized last month. He died Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.
Prine was the awardee of a lifetime achievement Grammy earlier this year. He was proclaimed as “The Mark Twain of American songwriting” by Rolling Stone in 2017.
His songwriting style was known for details, sharp humor, and open-heartedness. He received praises from peers like Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. Younger musicians like Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves also expressed their admiration to him.
Born on October 10, 1946, Prine started playing as a young Army veteran who composed songs because he was bored delivering the U.S. mail in Maywood, Illinois. Prine signed a contract with Atlantic Records and released his first album in 1971.
“I was really into writing about characters, givin’ ’em names,” Prine said, recalling moments throughout his career in a January 2016 public television interview that was posted on his website.
“You just sit and look around you. You don’t have to make up stuff. If you just try to take down the bare description of what’s going on, and not try to over-describe something, then it leaves space for the reader or the listener to fill in their experience with it, and they become part of it.”
Many people considered him as a “New Dylan.”
“I try to look through someone else’s eyes,” he told Ebert in 1970. His songs would often focus on characters, who were ordinary people and confirmed eccentrics.
His song “Sam Stone” follows the decline of a drug-addicted Vietnam veteran through the eyes of his little girl.
“Donald and Lydia” dives into a tryst between an Army private and a small-town girl, both searching for “love hidden deep in your heart.”
“He writes beautiful songs,” Dylan once told MTV producer Bill Flanagan. “I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about Sam Stone the soldier-junkie-daddy, and Donald and Lydia, where people make love from ten miles away — nobody but Prine could write like that.”
Prine never had a major commercial success, but he remained performing for more than four decades. He would sell his records at club appearances where he taught rising country and bluegrass musicians.
“I felt like I was going door-to-door meeting the people and cleaning their carpets and selling them a record,” he quipped in a 1995 Associated Press interview.
Prine also wrote political songs. For example, when President George W. Bush sent soldiers to war, Prine came up with the song “Some Humans Ain’t Human.” He wrote: “You’re feeling your freedom, and the world’s off your back, some cowboy from Texas, starts his own war in Iraq.”
His other Grammy Awards were Best Contemporary Folk Recording for his 1991 album “The Missing Years,” with guest vocalists including Raitt, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Phil Everly. He also got the Best Traditional Folk Album in 2004 for “Beautiful Dreamer.”
He survived throat cancer and an unrelated form of lung cancer.