What the great songwriter John Prine meant to me — and to all of us

Two of my favorite musicians have died in the past month — first McCoy Tyner and now John Prine. I wrote about Tyner here. Now let me tell you a little bit about Prine, who’d been in poor health for years and who did not survive COVID-19.

I came to Prine fairly late. I knew who he was and had heard a few of his early classics. But it wasn’t until his 1991 comeback album, “The Missing Years,” started getting some airplay that I really tuned in. It’s still my favorite Prine album. His songwriting had matured and his thin, reedy voice had given way to something deeper and more expressive. (You can learn about all of his music at his website.)

Prine only recorded three more albums of original material after that, the most recent being “The Tree of Forgiveness” (2018) — as warm and funny and heartfelt as anything he’d recorded. But he also recorded two terrific albums of country classics on which he sang duets with female singers.

“In Spite of Ourselves” (1999), the first and better of the two, featured the old George Jones classic “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds.” Not only was it audacious for Prine to take on perhaps the greatest country singer ever, but his singing partner, Melba Montgomery (who also wrote the song), had recorded the original with Jones some 35 years earlier. It was a magical moment.

Another magical moment was in June 2018, when we finally got to see Prine in Boston. I’d been warned that his voice was shot from cancer treatments, but in fact he sounded fine that night. He told some great stories and seemed genuinely glad to be there. So were we.

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