Monday, April 13, 2020

The loss of a musical brother

My Army bunk the first week I was in Panama in early 1972 seemed like the loneliest place on the planet. It felt as if I were a million miles from home. Thankfully, a pair of headphones tethered to a record player provided a lifeline that kept me connected to home.
My taste in music had changed after entering the Army. I still enjoyed the fluffy stuff that I listened to in high school, but I longed for something more. 
I ventured to the PX on one Friday evening and came across John Prine's first album. From the time the needle of the phonograph touched the grove of that vinyl, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit. 
The music was simple, but the words reached deep and spoke to things in my life that I knew to be true.  
The guitar playing on the album was not beyond my reach. Within a few hours, I'd learned how to play a song on the record that felt as if it had been written about Walker County. It was called "Paradise."
Before the weekend was out, I knew and could play every song on the album. 
A few months after completing my service in the Army, I returned home to Alabama. It only took a few months for Jilda and me to get together.
She had listened to John Prine too. We quickly learned "Paradise" and "Angel from Montgomery." 
In those days, one of our friends had a house party every weekend. "Y'all come and bring the guitar!" Our dance cards were punched every weekend. The most requested song we did then was me playing guitar and Jilda singing "Angel from Montgomery." She made that song hers.
Jilda and I had the good fortune to see John perform twice. Once in a small theater in the mid-1970s, again in the 1980s. 
Prine influenced the songs that Jilda and I wrote for the past 40 years. Bob Dylan loomed large on many of our songwriting buddies. I've learned from him too, but the music of John Prine was accessible, and what he wrote resonated with me. When listening to his music, it was almost as if he were sitting there in the room with you saying, "Here's a story about my grandpa." 
The two years my mother spent in a nursing home, I visited her every day with few exceptions. During my hours there, I made friends with many of the residents in nearby rooms. Often, they would roll their chairs into the hall to watch as people passed.
From the beginning, these hall people "snuck" into my heart. I learned their names, where they were from, and what kind of things made them smile. John Prine's song, "Hello In There" could have been written about my friends in the hall. 
Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger
 And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day
 Old people just grow lonesome
 Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello"
Last week, when I learned that John had contracted the coronavirus and was on life support, it hit me as if he were my brother. In a sense, he was. When he died, it broke my heart.
This pandemic has hit the world hard. Most of what we hear are numbers, but as one of our friends in the music business said this week, "Now the numbers are beginning to have names."
RIP John.


  1. AMAZING how a connection takes roots. Rick, I enjoyed the read. I am sure I cannot feel the heart strings that are being touched, but you made it real.
    Sometimes there is NO ANSWER, but inside it is just THAT FEELING. I always enjoy your references to Panama. Some of that I can relate to.
    I just wanted to say, this was a sweet/sour read, but you expressed it so well. THANKS...
    Sherry & jack

  2. Too many RIPs, the world over.

  3. Each one of those people have story of their own that should be told.
    May he rest in peace.
    Hugs, Julia

  4. He and his music will be treasured forever. Waiting to hear that you guys are safe.

  5. It hits a hard when it's some one we admire goes. Sound like he was a big part of your life, Sorry for your loss.May he rest in peace.

  6. This is a great tribute to Prine whom I never heard of until he died and people blogged about him. It makes me think of how many great artists are not as well known as they should be. He should be someone everyone has heard of.

  7. Touched my heart very deep, the sorrow and the loss, the song blessed me! Your kindred spirit of a person you never knew personaly, but knew his heart...
    Made me cry, Roxy

  8. So sorry to hear about your friend. Sounded like a great guy and an inspiration.

  9. Sad when a lifef comes to an end


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