Awful news: John Prine has died at the age of 73. His family confirmed the news to Rolling Stone, and that his death was caused by coronavirus complications. John had been in intensive care for over a week battling COVID-19, which he initially had a test come back "indeterminate" for.
Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, IL, Prine began playing guitar at 14. He sang in open mics in the late '60s while delivering mail and went on to perform regularly in Chicago's folk scene, gaining admirers in Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Robert Ebert and others. He released his self-titled debut album in 1971, and after more albums on Atlantic and Asylum Records, co-founded Oh Boy Records in 1984.
After being diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in 1988, Prine had surgery that removed part of his neck and severed nerves in his tongue, which led to a change in his voice. In 2013 he contracted cancer again, this time in his left lung.
That didn't stop him, though. By 2015 he was on the road again (we caught him in Brooklyn at Kings Theatre in 2016). He was an indisputable and influential legend who was respected by multiple generations of fans and fellow musicians he influenced like Bon Iver, Jenny Lewis and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who were among those who covered his songs at Bon Iver's Eaux Claires fest in 2017. My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, Justin Vernon, Lucius, Margo Price, and Nathaniel Rateliff were among those who joined him on stage at Newport Folk Fest later that year.
Sturgill Simpson, Kurt Vile & Margo Price all toured with Prine in 2018, which is the year he returned with his first album in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness. Guests on that album -- which features songwriting collaborations with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and Phil Spector -- included Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires. Not surprisingly, it appeared on many year-end lists. In 2019, Stephen Colbert, Bonnie Raitt, and Norah Jones were among those who honored him as he entered the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, and not long before he played Bonnaroo, and Webster Hall in NYC. Medical issues later that year caused some shows to be postponed, but before the end of that year he was already announcing 2020 shows. We were hoping to catch him at the Apollo Theater on June 20.
Rest in Peace, John Prine. Your music and influence lives on forever.