For me, it was Bruised Orange. The album had come out about the time I’d started a stint as a radio DJ, and everyone at the station had their favorite cut (mine was Fish And Whistle). As music fans did back then, we dug into the liner notes, and soon discovered an entire new world of musicians. Jethro Burns, Sam Bush, Corky Siegel, Steve Goodman (who also produced the record) and others became cherished favorites in their own right. Background vocalists included Rambin’ Jack Elliot and Jackson Browne. To my previously sheltered ears, folk music suddenly exploded from Joan Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary to a broad range of, mostly, acoustic musical styles.
Part and parcel to that was a realization that lyrics were so much more than just a hook where you could sing along. The mainstream rock & roll and country musicians that were my mainstay had, of course, something to say. And many of them did it quite elegantly. (Born To Run, anyone?) But when Prine sang, “there’s a hole in daddy’s arm, where all the money goes,” man…that’s like an entire novel in a single sentence.
A few years later I got my first exposure to John’s generosity to other musicians. Prine was on tour and I went to see him in a club in Kansas City. The opener was a guitar player/singer that had been kicked off her label and John wanted people to still hear her. That was the first time I heard Bonnie Raitt and him perform Angel From Montgomery. To this day, I get gooseflesh when I hear that duet, as I was privileged to do again last fall at the Americana Music Awards. And then there was the tour where I saw him at the Mountain Winery here in California. His opener was the newest addition to his record label, a kid named Todd Snider.
So now John isn’t physically with us anymore. That’s kind of hard to type. What we do have is a catalog of songs, many of which will be recorded again, and again, over the next decades. We also have a world that’s much richer because of John’s time here. As one of the “syphilitic parasitics” John wrote about, I have hope that one day I’ll walk into the Tree Of Forgiveness and have a pint of Smithwick’s with him.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.