has been called "the most universally literate ex-mailman
you will ever run into." He is also one of the simplest and truest songwriters in America. Prine is widely unknown, but a cult
hero to many.
Born into a blue-collar family in Maywood, Illinois, John's older brother taught him to play guitar at age 14. After graduating high school he started work for the postal service - where he would compose songs in his head, for his own amusement, while working. In 1966 he was drafted into the army -- this during the Vietnam War -- but spent his military obligation in Germany working in a motor pool.
Upon his return he went back to work for the postal service and then one night in 1970 he took the stage at a local Chicago folk music club. Within a few months he'd quit his postal job and was trying to earn a living with his music.
Prine got his big break when he set out to meet Steve Goodman. The two became friends and Goodman in turn introduced him to Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson was impressed with Prine's songwriting skills and gave him
such a glowing endorsement that Atlantic Records signed him to a contract the next day.
John's early albums met with critical acclaim, but never found a large audience. He changed record labels, varied his musical style, but despite the respect of his peers he was never a financial success. At one point in the 1980's he seriously considered giving up music and going back to being a mailman.
After a four-year recording hiatus, Prine came back in 1992 with The Missing Years, which won Best Contemporary Folk Grammy. John Prine had finally found the audience he deserved -- or rather, the audience had finally found him.
"I've sold 3,500 records and I've sold 350,000. It's more fun to sell 350,000."
Prine's songs are generally simple ballads that can be serious, hilarious, or heartwrenching. Social commentary, human foibles, or just plain silly thoughts can all be found in his music.
In the funeral Sam Stone we learn of a Vietnam vet who never recovered, with just a subtle overtone that his demise was all our faults. Illegal Smile is a goofy rebellious little marijuana smoker's anthem1. And Hello In There is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard. Long after much of today's platinum-selling dreck has long been forgotten, people will still be listening and singing the songs of John Prine.
John Prine (1971)
Diamonds In The Rough (1972)
Sweet Revenge (1973)
Common Sense (1975)
Prime Prine: The Best of John Prine (1976)
Bruised Orange (1978)
Pink Cadillac (1979)
Storm Windows (1980)
Aimless Love (1984)
German Afternoons (1986)
John Prine "Live" (1988)
The Missing Years (1991)
Great Days: The John Prine Anthology (1993)
A John Prine Christmas (1994)
Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings (1995)
Live on Tour (1997)
In Spite of Ourselves (1999)
points out, John wasn't writing about that funny little marriage-a-wanna plant, but figured it wasn't worth stopping to explain. So pot-smokers adopted it as their song. See the liner notes to Great Days: The John Prine Anthology
Many sources also list We're Children of Coincidence
as a 1976 Warner Bros. release by John Prine. It is not. It seems to have originated from a misprint in a catalogue and continues to be mislisted (as it was here) in many musical discographies.