John Prine on Fatherhood, Johnny Cash, Writing 'Angel From Montgomery'

The godfather of Americana also shares his thoughts on the best lyric he ever wrote, becoming a dad at 48 and car-shopping on eBay

John Prine

4/8/2020 5:20:00 AM

John Prine spoke to us about fatherhood, Johnny Cash, why happiness isn’t good for songwriting and more in our 2018 'The Last Word' interview. Read it here

The godfather of Americana also shares his thoughts on the best lyric he ever wrote, becoming a dad at 48 and car-shopping on eBay

Johnny Cash left out the Jesus line when he covered it. What was the audience reaction like when you performed it?Some people walked out. One woman stood up and told me I insulted her intelligence. I’m thinking, “Let me see your diploma.”Popular on Rolling Stone

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Cash called you one of his favorite songwriters in his autobiography. Do you have any stories about him?When I turned 40, I invited Johnny Cash to my party, even though I knew there was gonna be 200 people, roasting a pig and wild as can be. He didn’t come, but the next day, I got a bowl of chili he’d made and a note that said, “John, I’d love to come to your party, but that would mean I would have to leave my house.” I still have it somewhere, probably pressed inside a Bible or something. We’re getting ready to move. That’s when I find stuff.

One of your most famous songs, “Angel From Montgomery,” begins, “I am an old woman/Named after my mother.” What made you comfortable using a female perspective?Nobody told me you weren’t supposed to. Ignorance is bliss as a writer, I think. I always had an affinity for older people. I had a job delivering newspapers, and one place I had to go was an old people’s home. Some people would introduce you to their neighbors as if you were a nephew or grandson. They didn’t get many visitors, so they acted like you were coming to see them. And that stuck with me for a long time. I think I was 22 when I wrote that. headtopics.com

You made four classic albums for Atlantic Records in the Seventies. But you left in 1975. What happened?Ahmet Ertegun wasn’t particularly taking any kind of attention to what I was doing. They had the Stones and Led Zeppelin, and he was always on the road with them, enjoying himself, and I was like, “That’s great, but what am I doing here?” I told him I wanted to leave. He charged me $11,000 to get out of my contract. Then he said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” I said, “Lend me your limo, I’m gonna go up to Hartford tonight and see the Rolling Thunder Revue.” And, man, it was so good.

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What’s the best part of success?Being able to find a car on eBay and just buy it. I go window-shopping online and pick five cars I want, but I’ve got no place to put ’em. Even when I was a mailman, I thought success was, if you can get all your bills paid and you get to sleep late and your friends don’t talk about you, that’s success.

What does being happy do to your songwriting?It slows it down. Not that all I wrote about were disasters, but some of the best stuff is. When you get your heart broken, you’ve got all the time in the world to write about it: how it feels, what the temperature was that day. When you’re happy, the last thing you want to do is slow down and write a song, unless it’s “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

Your wife, Fiona, is Irish, and you live over there part-time. What’s the best part of living there?The Guinness. Guinness is a dreamy, dreamy beer when you get the right stuff. And the Irish are really nice people. And there’s characters. I met a guy named Johnny Cagney who was about 85, and he told me he’s written over 900 ballads and proceeded to sing some of them to me. We got a cottage just south of Galway town. The town’s got nine pubs and two grocery stores [ headtopics.com

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laughs]. You just stop in for a beer here and there. Pretty soon, you know all the news around town.You didn’t become a father until you were 48. How did it change you?It brought me right down to earth. I was a dreamer. Ilearned real fast I don’t know anything except songwriting. Since kids have

innocence, they can cut through the bullshit. I asked my son Tommy to sing withme in Birmingham when he was five or six. He comes offstage, and I said, “Howwas that, Tommy? Did you like that?” He goes, “That’s not real.

Read more: Rolling Stone »

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“had a job delivering newspapers, and one place I had to go was an old people’s home. Some people would introduce you to their neighbors as if you were a nephew or grandson. They didn’t get many visitors, so they acted like you were coming to see them. And that stuck with me..”🙂 JasonIsbell L,D,B,A,N key

JasonIsbell RIP Hello in there... ChrisWesseling Happiness is indeed not good for songwriting. Not GREAT songwriting anyway. JasonIsbell some good stuff in here johngstyles cjnfamily John, I’d love to come to your party, but that would mean I would have to leave my house.” -Johnny Cash RIP I have refrained from saying it hereto now, but FUCK TRUMP. There I said it. sorrynotsorry COVID19 TrumpPlague SafeAtHome JohnPrineMusic RecordingAcad WoodyGuthrieCtr

I love his songs- sad to hear this.

John Prine Dead at 73 From CoronavirusRIP John Prine : The Americana legend has died at age 73 due to coronavirus complications May he rest in peace ☹️ I’m so heartbroken over this. 💔

John Prine, revered singer-songwriter, dies of COVID-19 complications at 73 John Prine , who survived cancer and heart issues, died from COVID-19 complications. The Grammy winner was known for his keen observations and mordant humor. Very sad😟 Very sad. 🙏 A huge loss!

John Prine, Singer-Songwriter Known for Wit and Warmth, Dies at 73 John Prine , a country-folk music icon whose witty and heartfelt songs of love, protest and social commentary helped shape a generation of songwriters, has died from complications related to the novel coronavirus at age 73. Oh no . Omg no 🥺 💔 This is heartbreaking! Such an amazing talent and generous soul.

John Prine, Legendary Folk Singer, Dies at 73 John Prine , who established himself as one of America’s deftest and most affecting singer-songwriters over the course of a nearly 50-year career, died Tuesday of complications of coronavirus. He wa… 😢RIP thank you for the music 🎶 I'm weeping. Devastated. I’m so incredibly sad about this. 💔

John Prine, Revered Singer-Songwriter, Dies From Coronavirus Complications at 73The two-time Grammy-winning artist was well-known for his story songs with vivid imagery and countless artists covered his songs, including Johnny Cash (“Sam Stone”), Bette Midler (“Hello in There”) and Bonnie Raitt (“Angel From Montgomery”) and Zac Brown Band (“All the Best”). No!!! Fckn awful. Rest well in the big sky, John. 😞 Devastating loss