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John Prine

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The great singer-songwriter has passed away of COVID-19-related illnesses. He was never a huge star, but he was the kind of master that other songwriters revered, for good reason:

John Prine, the raspy-voiced country-folk singer whose ingenious lyrics to songs by turns poignant, angry and comic made him a favorite of Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and others, died on Tuesday in Nashville. He was 73.

The cause was complications of the coronavirus, his family said.

Mr. Prine underwent cancer surgery in 1998 to remove a tumor in his neck identified as squamous cell cancer, which had damaged his vocal cords. In 2013, he had part of one lung removed to treat lung cancer.

Mr. Prine was a relative unknown in 1970 when Mr. Kristofferson heard him play one night at a small Chicago club called the Fifth Peg, dragged there by the singer-songwriter Steve Goodman. Mr. Kristofferson was performing in Chicago at the time at the Quiet Knight. At the Fifth Peg, Mr. Prine treated him to a brief after-hours performance of material that, Mr. Kristofferson later wrote, “was unlike anything I’d heard before.”

Many more remembrances here.

I was lucky enough to see Prine at the lovely Palace Theater in Abany in 2017, along with Margo Price, one of the talented young artists he heavily influenced. One never knows what to expect of a veteran artist, particularly one with his health problems, but was a fantastic show — more than two hours, highly engaged, every song good and many great. Prine hit the ground running — his debut contained three songs (“Hello in There,” “Sam Stone,” and “Angel From Montgomery,”) firmly lodged in the canon, and several others nearly as good, including this one, which got a rousing performance dedicated to “our new Fuhrer”:

A lot of writers struggle to replicate a high-quality debut, but in a long career Prine never made a bad record and several excellent ones. (With some quibbles here and there — I’m very fond of Pink Cadillac — I’d say Christgau has him evaluated pretty well.) And he had sounder political science than Mark Halperin:

Alfred Soto has a well-curated list that could serve as a good basis for a playlist on your streaming service of choice. A few additions:

Prine and Bill Withers both released their debut albums in 1971. Both were among the true greats, with each choosing their own path (Withers walking away, Prine on the road for life.) It’s gutting to lose both in a week. R.I.P.

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