Acclaimed American songwriter John Prine dies age 73

(Image credit: Taylor Hill / Getty)

American country and folk singer-songwriter John Prine has passed away at the age of 73. He had been hospitalised since 26 March and spent 13 days in intensive care before passing away yesterday (7 April) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee due to COVID-19 complications. 

Bruce Springsteen is one the host of musicians playing tribute to an artist regarded as one of the great American folk songwriters. 

On Twitter Springsteen wrote, "we are crushed by the loss of John Prine. John and I were ‘New Dylans’ together in the early 70s and he was never anything but the loveliest guy in the world. A true national treasure and a songwriter for the ages.”

Born in the blue collar suburbs of Chicago to Kentucky parents, he spent time in the US army as a mechanic before working as a mailman while working on songs with his guitar in his spare time. But when his break as a musician came, it read like a film script.

The story goes that after returning from mandatory army duties, Prine attended an open mic night in Chicago's Fifth Peg folk venue. Prine allegedly complained about the lack of talent on the stage and he was challenged to do better. He took the stage to play a three-song set that included the heartbreaking Sam Stone. The audience reaction was enough to earn Prine a $1,000-a-week residency in the city that allowed him to quite his postal service job.

Kris Kristofferson saw Prine play in Chicago and when he later visited New York, Kristofferson invited him to play a gig to record-label staff. Prine was signed to Atlantic Records the next day. “Luck has a good deal to do with it, luck and timing,” Prine reflected. “But when the luck and timing comes along, you’ve got to have the goods.”

Often compared to the Dylan and Cash, Prine's music was admired by both men, though the mainstream success they enjoyed largely alluded him. “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism," Dylan said in 2009. "Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.”

Prine released his self-titled debut album in 1971, and would go on to release 19 studio albums. His influence has impacted a new generation of great American songwriters with Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson both citing Prine's songbook as an inspiration.

Prine was nominated for 11 Grammy awards over the years and won two of them, he was also given a lifetime achievement award at the 2020 ceremony. 

He suffered from cancer twice over the years, overcoming immense obstacles to return to the stage in 1996 when he had part of his neck removed as a result squamous cell carcinoma. Prine required speech therapy to be able to sing again. In 2013, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and recovered following surgery to return to the stage five months later.

John Prine is survived by his wife Fiona Whelan Prine, who is also his manager.  

Read some of the tributes to John Prine below

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.