John Prine played at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday. He didn't have far to drive home after the show. Prine has a residence in Gulfport. It's one of three homes he owns along with one in Galway, Ireland and his storied Nashville mansion.
In a recent New York Times
"Carry On" column, Prine said that he and his wife Fiona spend "much of the year in St. Pete Florida." In the article, Prine described a typical day for the couple while they live in the area. "Fiona is a beach person. I just bought a 1977 Cadillac Coupe Deville and I've got that down at the house in Florida, so I usually take the car to the carwash and go get a hot dog and wait for Fiona to get back to the beach, then we go to a nice restaurant at night."
Prine, who has 50 years of experience on tour, also shared that he travels with 20 outfits on the road, but only wears three, two on stage and one during the day, and that he also brings along his own condiments and syrup, "whatever I can steal from the hotel," an Archie comic, a toy motorcycle, a kazoo, an issue of Mojo Music and an Issue of Old West, a magazine about antique pistols, along with 5 pairs of reading glasses, a magnifying glass and about 11 guitar picks with his name printed on them in orange, green, red and white that he may give to fans or use himself, because he never likes to be caught without a pick."
John Prine has been working as a composer, recording artist and performer since the 1970s. The first three songs he ever played on any stage were "Hello In There," "Sam Stone," and "Paradise." I sang those three songs and people just sat there and looked back at me, I thought 'Wow, those are really bad. They wouldn't even applaud."
About his 2018 album, Tree of Forgiveness
, which reached #2 on US Charts, and #1 on US Folk Charts, Prine has said "I kept saying when I was doing this that it would be my last one, but if things go really good with it, why not?" He received a Grammy nomination for the album.
His wife Fiona began managing Prine in 2015 after the death of his manager Al Brunetta. Fiona, now also his manager, reserved a room at The Omni Motel in Nashville for a week so that Prine could finish the album.
Hotels are a familiar environment for Prine. He checked in with four guitars and 10 boxes of legal pads, joking about the hotel stay leading to Nashville gossip about the state of his marriage.
"She knows that after 50 years on the road, I function better in a hotel, so that's what I did," he said. "I ordered room service and watched my quiz shows. If I wanted to write at three in the morning or three in the afternoon, I could."
The album cultivates familiar themes like loneliness, heartbreak and quirky humor conveyed through vividly drawn characters. All the songs are new, but some are the completion of collaborations that went unfinished for decades, like "God Only Knows," written with Phil Spector. Musical arrangements are more spare than past albums.
"Caravan of Fools," a writing collaboration with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, is a current meditation on the weaknesses of powerful people. The ablum's title comes from a line on its last track,"When I Get To Heaven." The child gigling on the track is Prine's grandson.
John Prine learned to play the guitar at age 14, taught by his brother, while growing up in his native Maywood, IL. He attended Chicago's Old Town School of Music.
He served in the army in the 60s, stationed in West Germany. When he returned to the US he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a mailman for five years, writing songs as a hobby. He began to sing at Open Mics in the late 60s at the Fifth Peg on Armitage Ave in Chicago. Chicago Sun Times
critic Roger Ebert heard him there and wrote a review calling him a great songwriter. He went on to perform frequently in Chicago clubs, becoming a central figure in the Chicago folk revival.
Kris Kristofferson discovered him and he was soon signed to Atlantic Records, producing his self-titled debut in 1971. The album included his classics, "Illegal Smile," "Sam Stone," "Angel From Montgomery" and "Paradise." It also included "Far From Me," a song about lost love that Prine has called his favorite of all his songs, and "Hello In There," a song about loneliness in old age that Prine wrote when he was only 22. He talked about the song in a 2018 interview with CBS This Morning
. "Growing up I was real close to my Grandparents, both sets. They just treated me like I was something that came off a Christmas Tree," he explained. "Because of them, when I would meet other elderly people, I felt an affinity for them. I found that if you talk to them a little bit, then they'll start telling you. They've got loads of stories to tell and that kind of came natural to me to write that song. It was a matter of, I was too inexperienceed to know what I was doing."
The album received a slew of positive reviews with some critics hailing Prine as "the next Dylan." Bob Dylan made an appearance at one of Prine's shows, playing harmonica anonymously.
His 1972 follow-up, "Diamonds In the Rough," was an uncommercial, stripped down version of his sound, born from Prine's love of bluegrass and featuring songs reminiscent of Hank Williams. 1973s Sweet Revenge
was the first to chart on the US Billboard Charts.
Prine founded his label Oh Boy Records in the 80s. His son now runs it. Prine won his first Grammy for The Missing Years
, named after it's title track, his humorous take on what Jesus did in the unrecorded years between his childhood and ministry.
In 2005 he won a Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy for Fair and Square, which included the song "Some Humans Ain't Human," his take on the dark side of human nature with a quick shot at George W Bush. Prine would not release another album of original new material until 2018s "The Forgiveness Tree."
He has released two albums of duets with country's greatest ladies. In Spite of Ourselves
, released in 1999, contained only one original Prine song along with a set of classic country covers sung with Emmylou Harris, Delores Keane and Iris Dement. 2016s For Better or For Worse
, an album of duets with Allison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, Kacy Musgroves and Lee Ann Womack, followed.
Prine is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential songwriters of his time. His boots, cowboy hat and the handwritten lyrics to "Angel from Montgomery" were displayed in tribute at the 2016 American Currents Awards, honoring the best new names in country music.
In 2016, Prine also shared the PEN/Song Lyrics award given to two songwriters every other year, sharing it with Tom Waitts and his songwriting collaborator and wife, Kathleen Brennan.
Bob Dylan told the Huffington Post in 2009 that Prine was one of his favorite writers in 2009, calling his work "pure Proustian existentialism, midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree, and, he added, he writes beautiful songs."
"Sam Stone, the soldier junkie daddy, and Donald and Lydia, where people make love from 10 miles away, nobody but Prine could write like that."
In his autobiograpy Cash, Johnny Cash cited Prine one of his "big four" sources of inspiration when getting ready to write songs, along with his early songwriting collaborator, the late Steve Goodman.
John Prine will be on tour through August 2020. His next stop will be a New Years Eve show at The Grand Ol Opry in Nashville with The Secret Sisters and Marty Stuart.