You wouldn’t necessarily guess it from his voice, which has a rural twang, but [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]John Prine[/lastfm] was born in Maywood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, 65 years ago this week. His parents were natives of Kentucky, and Prine learned to play guitar from his grandfather, who had played with acclaimed country picker [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Merle Travis[/lastfm]. He launched his career as a Chicago folksinger in the late 1960s.
Prine’s self-titled 1971 album contains several of his most famous songs: “Angel From Montgomery,” “Illegal Smile,” “Sam Stone,” “Hello in There,” and “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” His third album, Sweet Revenge, might be his best known. It’s more rock and less folk than his earlier records, and again features several famous songs: “Dear Abby,” “Christmas in Prison,” and the wonderful “Please Don’t Bury Me.” The poorly-reviewed 1975 release Common Sense was his highest-charting, produced by Memphis guitar legend [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Steve Cropper[/lastfm] and containing “Come Back to Us Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard,” which you should really use the next time you play charades. In 1978 came Bruised Orange, his best record since his first one, produced by fellow Chicago folksinger [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Steve Goodman[/lastfm].
Prine recorded steadily through the ’80s and ’90s. In 1991 he won a Grammy for The Missing Years, which featured guest appearances by [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Bonnie Raitt[/lastfm] (who famously covered “Angel From Montgomery” early in her career), [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Bruce Springsteen[/lastfm], and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Tom Petty[/lastfm]. He also won a Grammy for the 2005 album Fair and Square. His most recent album is In Person and On Stage, a live disc, released last year.
Prine’s trademark is his absurd wit, which is often amplified by his quirky delivery. “Dear Abby” has been cracking us up for years. Here it is, performed live on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973.