Posts Tagged ‘John Mellencamp’

John Mellencamp: <i>Other People's Stuff</i> Review

Arriving a year after his rootsy Sad Clowns & HillbilliesJohn Mellencamp’s new album is a series of (mostly) previously released folk standards and covers the 67-year-old singer has amassed over the years. The set is a testament to both Mellencamp’s signature sound and his wide-ranging taste. Culling recordings from a nearly 25-year period, Mellencamp’s latest LP is a surprisingly cohesive collection defined largely by the well-worn murky blues-roots arrangements the singer has become known for since his 80’s hitmaking days. The source material ranges from Atlantic Records soul (“Teardrops Will Fall”) to pre-war country (“Wreck of the Old 97”). Taken together, the record serves as a rendering of what Mellencamp’s own Great American Songbook might look like. 

Mellencamp noted that he doesn’t “get paid for being onstage, I get paid for leaving home, traveling on airplanes and staying in hotels.” “The part of being onstage, I’ll do that for free,” he said. “I’m pretty much an isolationist and my routine is always the same. I very rarely see anybody except when I walk onstage. It’s not like I hang out with anybody. … I don’t even stay in the same hotel as the band.”

Although the title’s something of a misnomer, it does accurately sum up the vintage sentiments that give this album its common bond. Still, it’s a viable concept, especially given Mellencamp’s reputable stance as a heartland hero and blue collar troubadour.

Nevertheless, the obvious question is why Mellencamp would choose to revisit songs he originally recorded. While these songs suggest varied sources, many revisit earlier offerings Mellencamp sang himself on previous albums. The easy answer seems to lie in his desire to express the outrage that he, like most similarly-minded musicians, feel in today’s maelstrom of polarized politics and increasing division. Fancying himself as a folk singer in the populist tradition—think Dylan, Springsteen, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, he tackles these tunes with a gritty, rough hewn sensibility that reflects both his passion and purpose. The tattered yet timeless narrative “Wreck of the Old 97”,” the craggy folk blues of the oft-covered standard “In My Time of Dying” and the erstwhile narrative entitled “Mobile Blue” maintain that sense of resolve, yet still offer due reverence to the originals.

Consequently, Other People’s Stuff seems more than a mere recap of Mellencamp’s rootsier efforts. It’s an anthology of sorts enveloped within the protest motif. The lively roadway narrative “Dark as a Dungeon” was culled from a National Geographic special. The rugged blues and bluster of “Eyes on the Prize” was Mellencamp’s contribution to a White House gathering during the Obama era celebrating the Civil Rights movement. “Gambling Bar Room Blues” and “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” were culled from tributes to Jimmie Rodgers and Stevie Wonder, respectively.

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The annual Farm Aid took place yesterday at KeyBank Pavilion just outside of Pittsburgh as the organization’s board members—Dave Matthews, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp all performed and welcomed a lineup that also included Sheryl Crow, Jack Johnson, The Avett Brothers and more. There were a number of the highlights on the night.

Johnson embodied the collaborative spirit of the event with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” with Sheryl Crow, Nathaniel Rateliff and Jamey Johnson sitting in. Lukas Nelson later emerged for “Breakdown” and The Avett Brothers helped Johnson close his set with “Mudfootball” and “Better Together.”

Elsewhere on the day, Nelson welcomed Margo Price with his band Promise of the Real for “Find Yourself.” Price later duetted with Sheryl Crow on “Strong Enough,” who also paid tribute to Gregg Allman with a cover of “Midnight Rider” featuring Lukas and Willie Nelson as well as Jack Johnson.

Jamey Johnson made waves with the country artist delivering covers of “Up on Cripple Creek” as well as Little Feat’s “Willin’” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” before The Avett Brothers came out for their classic brand of folk rock after a few collaborations earlier in the day.

Dave Matthews, along with acoustic partner Tim Reynolds, was the first of the four board members to play, rolling through a brief set highlighted by a new song “The Odds are Against Us.” Mellencamp then rolled through his hits before Young roared with Promise of the Real, playing hits like “Fuckin’ Up,” “Cortez the Killer,” “Cinnamon Girl” and “Heart of Gold,” among others.

As he always does, Willie Nelson closed down the evening, welcoming Jamey Johnson for the Merle Haggard collaboration “It’s All Going to Pot” before Sheryl Crow, Valerie June, Seth and Scott Avett emerged for “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.” Nelson then brought out son Lukas for one of the last songs of the night, an appropriate tribute to Texas with “Texas Flood.” The singalong “I Saw the Light” brought the evening to a close.

Neil Young and Promise of the Real perform “Fuckin’ Up” at Farm Aid 2017 at KeyBank Pavilion in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, on September 16.

On June 18th, 1986, John Mellencamp performed at an unusual venue: the Senate Subcommittee on Agricultural Production and Stabilization of Prices. Still using the Cougar moniker at that time, which an early manager saddled him with, Mellencamp had recently wrapped up touring behind the big blockbuster album “Scarecrow” a clear-eyed look at an America he felt alienated from.

“With Scarecrow, I was finally starting to find my feet as a songwriter,” he wrote in a 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit. “For the first time, I realized what I thought I wanted to say in song. … I wanted it to be more akin to Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Faulkner.

With the simple, Steinbeckian tunes of Scarecrow fresh in his mind, Mellencamp came to Washington, D.C., with fellow Farm Aid activist Willie Nelson to testify in support of the Family Farm bill sponsored by Democrat senator Tom Harkin from Iowa. In a few short years, Mellencamp went from singing “When I fight authority, authority always wins” to facing the nation’s mightiest authority.

“In Seymour, Ind., the town I grew up in, there used to be a John Deere dealership. It is no longer there,” he told the Senate committee. “When I am out on tour and I am talking to people, they are afraid. Their vision of the future is, ‘What is going to happen to my children in 20 years when, all of a sudden, three farmers are farming the state of Indiana and they also own all the food-processing plants?’”

“It seems funny and peculiar,” he added as the opposition against Harkin’s bill began to file out of the room. “After my shows and after Willie’s shows, people come up to us for advice. It is because they have got nobody to turn to.”

Most of Scarecrow mined deeply personal stories — “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Small Town,” “Minutes to Memories.” But his work with Nelson and Farm Aid, and his growing connection to the national consciousness, turned his eye from personal to public pain as he penned songs for the follow-up album, The Lonesome Jubilee.

Released on August. 24th, 1987, a year after his Senate testimony, The Lonesome Jubilee became another Mellencamp blockbuster. It went triple platinum and spun out two Top 10 hits in “Paper in Fire” and “Cherry Bomb.” But today fans remember the album not as a pair of hits surrounded by album cuts, but as the singer’s most unified thematic and sonic vision. The Lonesome Jubilee is the ninth studio album by American singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, credited as John Cougar Mellencamp. The album was released by Mercury Records. 

Lyrically, The Lonesome Jubilee took on unemployment, poverty, homelessness, xenophobia, racism and the heavy burden of disillusionment Mellencamp saw weighing down his generation. The pain and contemplation show right there in the song titles: “We Are the People,” “Empty Hands,” “The Real Life,” “Down and Out in Paradise,” “Hard Times for an Honest Man.”

The album’s thesis statement came together in the lyrics of the opening track “Paper in Fire”: “There is a good life right across this green field/And each generation stares at it from afar/But we keep no check on our appetites/So the green fields turn to brown like paper in fire.”

The song burns with an intense energy while stinking of ache and angst. Even the famously cantankerous Mellencamp admitted it was an achievement. “After Scarecrow, the critics all kinda went, ‘Whoa, now we gotta pay attention to this guy,’” . “I think ‘Paper in Fire’ is the ultimate John Mellencamp song. I wasn’t trying to be on the radio anymore. Radio was on my side. There wasn’t any Woody Guthrie influence. There wasn’t any Rolling Stones influence. There wasn’t a Bob Dylan influence. I made the decision, much to everyone’s dismay, to use violins and accordions, and incorporate an Appalachian sound of original country. I tried to figure out how to make that work in rock ‘n’ roll.” “We were on the road for a long time after Scarecrow, so we were together a lot as a band,” Mellencamp said in a 1987 Creem Magazine feature. “For the first time ever, we talked about the record before we started. We had a very distinct vision of what should be happening here. At one point, The Lonesome Jubilee was supposed to be a double album, but at least 10 of the songs I’d written just didn’t stick together with the idea and the sound we had in mind. So I just put those songs on a shelf, and cut it back down to a single record. Now, in the past, it was always ‘Let’s make it up as we go along’ – and we did make some of The Lonesome Jubilee up as we went along. But we had a very clear idea of what we wanted it to sound like, even before it was written, right through to the day it was mastered.

Despite the themes, the album isn’t a sermon. Mellencamp’s words don’t come with solutions, or even wisdom. Instead, they just chronicle the mess and occasional but sustaining joys of life. While a big chunk of the album has the singer using his voice to speak for others — parents struggling to feed their families, but between the not-so-beautiful losers Mellencamp inserts his own stories. “Cherry Bomb” may be the most personal song he’s ever written.

The Band 

  • John Mellencamp – vocal, guitar
  • Kenny Aronoff – drums, percussion, backing vocals
  • Larry Crane – guitars, mandolin, harmonica, autoharp, banjo, backing vocals
  • John Cascella – accordion, keyboards, saxophone, melodica, penny whistle, claves
  • Lisa Germano – fiddle
  • Toby Myers – bass guitar, banjo, backing vocals
  • Pat Peterson – backing vocals, cowbell, tambourine
  • Crystal Taliefero – backing vocals
  • Mike Wanchic – guitars, dobro, banjo, dulcimer, backing vocals

Image of Thurston Moore - Rock N Roll Consciousness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thurston Moore entered The Church studios in London to record new songs with producer Paul Epworth. Thurston, the founder of seminal US alternative rock experimentalists Sonic Youth and Paul, the celebrated producer and co-writer of Adele, The Pop Group, Florence & the Machine et al created a dynamic vibratory match (with the realization that they were both Leos, on the cusp of Cancer, born on 25 July.) The session was mixed by Randall Dunn (Marissa Nadler, Sunn 0))), Earth, Boris) at Avast! Studios in Seattle.

Thurston Moore Group had been touring since the critically acclaimed release The Best Day LP/CD (2014, Matador) that introduced the core members James Sedwards (guitar), My Bloody Valentine’s Deb Googe (bass) and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley (drums). Rock n Roll Consciousness is Thurston’s focus on this group’s strength, beauty and promise, with an unleashing of James Sedwards’ brilliant guitar play, Deb Googe’s minimalist groove ethic and Steve Shelley’s in-the-pocket swing dynamism.

The songs Thurston introduce are expansive, anthemic and exploratory with lyrics, co-written with poet Radio Radieux, investigating and heralding the love between angels, goddess mysticism and a belief in healing through new birth. They range from the opener “Exalted”, an unfolding and emotional journey in homage to sacred energy and exaltation, to “Cusp” a springtime charging, propulsive piece with a feeling of Sonic Youth mixing in with My Bloody Valentine to “Turn On” a pop-sonic poem to holy love both intimate and kosmiche to the contemplative mystery of life-defining time travel in “Smoke of Dreams”. The record concludes with “Aphrodite”, a strange and heavy no wave rocker in salutation to the idol of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.

Rock n Roll Consciousness is a new and exhilarating chapter for Thurston Moore, and promises to be a creative highpoint for anyone interested in his legacy of avant-garde music and writing, as strong a statement as anything he has recorded these last three decades – serious and precocious and strangely accessible.

Image of The Cosmic Dead - Psych Is Dead

Scotland’s favourite space-psych-rock-gods return with a new album ‘Psych Is Dead’ before heading out on a lengthy UK/European tour including appearances at all the key genre festivals such as Safe As Milk, Wrong Fest, Desert Fest, Raw Power Festival and Karma Fest.

Formed in 2010, The Cosmic Dead are a quartet from Glasgow, Scotland who share their music through good vibes and better vibrations. Known for their improv, chaos strewn, Buckfast smashed against the wall take on space music, they have roamed from Roadburn to Las Vegas, Dundee to Bangalore with each album offering a meditative window into a certain time and space.

‘Psych Is Dead’ is the sixth full length album from the band, the glowing embers of a a few days spent recording in a sweaty Sardinian kitchen overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Soon to be available on LP and CD via Riot Season Records, ‘Psych Is Dead’ is an aural exploration of their tumultuous universe.

Black honey somebody better

Limited Opaque Orange 7″ Vinyl. Like those have gone before it, Somebody Better is the next player in the terrific Black Honey single line-up. Following in the footsteps of its predecessors Corinne, All My Pride and the most recent Hello Today, once again the Brighton four-piece fronted by Izzy B. Phillips step up to the mark with a brilliantly bold statement of intent for 2017 – a festival- ready gleaming pop-rock meteor that’s headed straight for you. It is a mix of Eat to the Beat era Blondie and pop era Lush.

Lanegan

 

There’s a singer with a voice 50 fathoms deep and the consistency of vitrified teak, who has been known to go to extremes in search of a song. Across continents, over oceans, through multiple time zones. From West Hollywood to… Tunbridge Wells. A long way – but Mark Lanegan knows the directions.

Early in 2016, Mark was at home in Los Angeles, working on some ideas for what might turn into his next album. He wasn’t too thrilled by what he was coming up with. Then he got an email from a friend, an English musician named Rob Marshall, thanking Mark for contributing to a new project he was putting together, Humanist. The pair first met in 2008, when Marshall’s former band Exit Calm supported Soulsavers, who Mark was singing with at the time. Now Rob was offering to write Mark some music to return the favour.

“I was like, Hey man, I’m getting ready to make a record, if you’ve got anything?’” Mark recalls. “Three days later he sent me *10 things… !”

In the meantime, Mark had written Blue Blue Sea, a rippling mood piece that he thought might be a more fruitful direction for his new record, and had the idea for a song called First Day Of Winter that felt like an apt closer. “It’s almost always how my records start,” he explains. “I let the first couple of songs tell me what the next couple should sound like, and it’s really the same process when I’m writing words. Whatever my first couple of lines are tell me what the next couple should be. I’ve always built things like that, sort of like making a sculpture I guess. Start with the raw material and let that point me in the direction I want to go. So, once I was pointed in that direction, the music that came from other sources, from Rob, I just went for the ones that helped me build this narrative that I had started already.”

Within an hour, Mark had written words and vocal lines for two of the pieces Rob had cooked up at Mount Sion Studios in Kent and pinged through the virtual clouds to California. Rob’s music fitted perfectly with the direction Mark had been pondering: in essence, a more expansive progression from the moody Krautrock-influenced electronica textures of his two previous albums, Blues Funeral and Phantom Radio. Eventually, Rob Marshall would co-write six of the songs on the new Mark Lanegan Band album. “I was very thankful to become reacquainted with him,” Mark deadpans.

The remainder of the album was written, recorded and produced by Lanegan’s longtime musical amanuensis Alain Johannes at his 11 AD base in West Hollywood. Everything was done and dusted within a month, unusually fast by Lanegan’s recent standards. Both Blues Funeral and Phantom Radio unfurled at leisurely pace over several months. But this time Johannes had only a fixed window of opportunity due to his ongoing touring commitments as a member of P.J. Harvey’s band. But Mark was sufficiently happy with the material to move swiftly, a reflection of contentment with his abilities as a singer and writer, which have now produced a huge body of work spanning a period of more than 30 years: whether it be his own solo records, or collaborative recordings with others, or going back to his legendary first band, the Screaming Trees.

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His second self-titled album grew out of a period of great change for Pollie both personally and professionally. The L.A. musician ended one relationship and started another. He released a debut album in 2014 to critical claim and watched as the single She Came Through (Again) became a surprise hit – the kind of bittersweet pop song destined to anchor a multitude of lovelorn mixtapes. He signed to Anti-Records and worked on Los Angeles Police Department with Jonathan Rado (Foxygen, Whitney, Lemon Twigs) producing and Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith, Foo Fighters) mixing. Los Angeles Police Department reveals an artist turning the personal into the universal and giving a bit of himself away in the process. “I’m a student of the album, so it was important to make this more than just a collection of the best songs I had written. It had to be a journey for me and for the listener.” The journey does not end with the album, but will continue throughout his next album and his next and his next. “My music is an extension of myself and it’s definitely something that I’m going to grow with.”

Mellencampsadclowns

Heartland rocker John Mellencamp releases his 23rd full-length album, Sad Clowns and Hillbillies featuring Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, on Island Records. Sad Clowns and Hillbillies returns Mellencamp to the musical eclecticism that is, itself, a reflection of his wide-ranging musings on life. John Mellencamp is an authentic voice of American music and master storyteller with a commitment to creating traditional rock and roll, bittersweet songs of happiness and melancholia, and fervent political dissent. His passions and experiences resonate beautifully in this showcase of his music. Sad Clowns and Hillbillies is self produced by John Mellencamp.

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Pinegrove’s Everything So Far is exactly what its title suggests – an anthology of all of Pinegrove’s output up to the point of their breakout Run For Cover Records full-length, Cardinal. The collection encapsulates their debut LP Meridian, a number of EPs and even some singles like the captivating track Angelina and Cardinal favourite New Friends. Originally available only on cassette with a shorter tracklist. Listening to Everything So Far is a rewarding experience for new and old fans, as the time capsule of a tracklist shows Pinegrove developing a signature sound, maturing and learning with each song.

2LP – First time on vinyl and pressed as a double album. The vinyl version also includes a brand-new 16 page booklet featuring lyrics and photos documenting the band’s earliest moments.

Hmltd to the door aw

HMLTD release their second single To The Door backed up by the equally stunning B-side Music!. The single is available as a limited 7” on Ouroboros Ltd. The six-piece, whose origins lie somewhere between the UK, Greece and France, have come up as one of the most confounding acts to appear in London in recent memory, with equally galvanizing music and visuals, stories of chaotic and incendiary live shows to packs of mosh-pitting followers and compatriots, and art installations where the lines between performers and audience are ever-blurred. Continuing their collaboration with director Jenkin Van Zyl, To The Door is an audio-visual bucking bronco ride of fantasy and myth, sci-fi and the terrestrial, savagery and élan, the unattainable and the tactile, coming together for a mesmerising assault on the senses. It’s another opportunity to join HMLTD’s uncompromising, all-in, fiercely adventurous and wholly irresistible world.

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274 Copies only limited-edition red vinyl 7″ single of Lorelle Meets The Obsolete’s ace The Sound Of All Things, taken from last year’s acclaimed fourth album, Balance. It’s the long song where lapping, ambient beauty gives way to a stormy sea of psych-rock, like Moon Duo tripping out with The Orb. According to the band, it’s all inspired by John Cage and the ocean near their home in Ensenada, Baja California. It comes backed with a brand new remix by the wonderful Russian band Gnoomes, who have turned it into an electro-psych monster.

Wilsen i go missing in my sleep album cover artwork hires 600x600

First appearing on the scene with the self-released Sirens double-EP (2013) and Magnolia EP (2014). Tours with Daughter, Matthew E. White, San Fermin and shows with London Grammar soon followed. Tamsin has also lent her vocals to Honne’s Coastal Love and a vocal line of hers is used in a SBTRKT song. I Go Missing In My Sleep is Wilsen’s debut album and was recorded with producer Ben Baptie in upstate New York and atThe Farm Studio outside of Philadelphia. Many of the songs were composed in a tiny Brooklyn apartmentin the fleeting pre-dawn moments when New York City is mostly still. These beautifully crafted original pieces capture an almost impossible sense of delicate quietness, and when it came time to record them with the band – Drew Arndt on bass and Johnny Simon on guitar – they unfurled at a nexus of hushed and heart-racing, intimate folk paired with muscular yet restrained sonic experimentation. It evokes the mood of Nick Drake and epic soundscapes in the vein of Arcade Fire.

Bert Jansch - Living In The Shadows Part 2: On The Edge Of A Dream

Following on from Earth’s definitive collection of Jansch’s 1990s works ‘Living In The Shadows Part 2: On The Edge Of A Dream’ picks up from where it left off, bringing together Bert Jansch’s final recordings, made between 2000 and 2006. This remarkable anthology documents some of Jansch’s finest work, and a man at the top of his game, some forty years(!) after his first release. From the brooding resonance of Crimson Moon (where Jansch is joined by Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler and Johnny “Guitar” Hodge, as well as son Adam Jansch and Bert’s wife Loren Jansch) to the intimacy of Edge Of A Dream (Bernard Butler, Hope Sandoval, Dave Swarbrick, Ralph McTell, Johnny “Guitar” Hodge, Paul Wassif, Adam Jansch and Loren Jansch) to the wondrous new folk / trad folk harmony of Black Swan (Beth Orton, Devendra Banhart, Kevin Barker, Helena Espvall, Paul Wassif), these seemingly very different albums all speak of one thing: Bert’s natural talent for turning out extraordinary music, regardless of genre. Disc four, The Setting Of The Sun, takes in more demos and unreleased material, with guest appearances from Gordon Giltrap and Johnny Marr adding additional delight for fans old and new. These peeks into Jansch’s recording process are nothing if not fascinating, with his home studio lending itself perfectly to any recording fancy he might arrive at. Like Part 1, this deluxe case-bound set exhibits the sublime attention to detail that has become Earth Recordings’ calling card. Liner notes come courtesy of colleague Bernard Butler and Bert’s son Adam, while a comprehensive listening guide (by esteemed journalist, Dave Henderson) is also included.

 

The transformation began and sprouted its roots on his previous album, 1983’s Uh-Huh , in which the artist, having finally scored big the year before with American Fool, won the right to credit his real surname on the cover. He had to settle for a compromise — that ridiculous “Cougar” stage name wasn’t going anywhere yet — but the victory was big enough to matter.

Uh-Huh also included his first fully formed shot at breaking the hard-ass rocker image the record company had shaped for him on his first Top 40 hit, 1979’s “I Need a Lover,” “Pink Houses” (though American Fool‘s “Jack & Diane” came close). But Scarecrow was (mostly) a full album of smart, heartland-inspired and Americana roots-pulling rock ‘n’ roll. And the compromises this time were few. Scarecrow is the moment where his past became a distant memory and he finally found his voice.

When John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” was released on his “Scarecrow” album in September 1985, the song helped launch a form of heartland rock that celebrated family farms and blue-collar workers.

Originally written by Mellencamp as a valentine to his hometown of Seymour, Ind., “Small Town” reached No. 6 on pop charts in early ’86 while “Scarecrow” climbed to No. 2 on the album chart.

“Scarecrow” was reissued this month on the extra-thick 180-gram vinyl format by Mercury/UMe in advance of Mellencamp’s tour . Recently, John Mellencamp, 64, looked back on the song’s evolution. Edited from an interview: I was 12 when I first picked up a guitar. My family lived in Seymour, Ind., and my older brother, Joe, was the star of our high school musicals. In one show, he had to play some guitar chords, so my parents bought him a nylon-stringed model.

Once the musical was over, the guitar sat in the corner of the bedroom we shared. One day I grabbed it. My goal was to learn enough chords to play along with the songs I was listening to on the radio.
I never had a guitar lesson in my life and I still can’t read music. But I had a good ear and a feel for it. By 1965, I was in a soul band that played parties, dances and proms at local high schools and colleges.

John Mellencamp in 1985

 

I was 14 and the youngest kid in the seven-member band. The older musicians all knew American soul music inside and out. We covered obscure pop and soul songs by big stars, which exposed me to music that most people never get to hear. I also learned about racism. Three of us in the band were white and the rest of the guys were black. The audience loved us when we played. Offstage, the black guys in the band were often met with racial slurs. I was offended at their treatment, not to mention my great-great grandmother was black.

After junior college, I went to New York hoping to get a record deal or be admitted to the Art Students League to study painting. After dropping off a demo tape at Main Man, the management agency signed me and cut a deal with MCA Records. They also insisted I use “Cougar” as my middle name. I hated that.

I had no songwriting skills, so my first few albums were awful. They featured mostly cover songs and early originals. Critics didn’t like me, so I knew that to make it, I’d have to write songs and convince radio to play them.

I began carrying a pad around and jotting down lyrics for songs I was working on. By 1984, I had written and recorded quite a few top-10 hits, including “Jack & Diane,” “Hurts So Good,” “Crumblin’ Down” and “Pink Houses.”

At the time, my label, Mercury/Riva, wanted an album from me every 18 months. In between I was on tour, so I was rarely home. But one day in ’84 when I was home in Bloomington, Ind., Vicky, my wife then, called me down to our basement laundry room. When I got there, a big box was on our clothes-folding counter.

I’m the worst speller in the world, so Vicky had ordered an electric typewriter with a built-in spell-check system. I tried to make sense of the owner’s manual, but I couldn’t figure it out. I’d put a sheet of paper in and start typing, but the words I misspelled weren’t being corrected.

Frustrated, I said to myself, “Well, I guess I’m just a stupid hillbilly. What do I know? I was born in a small town.” After a few more minutes with the typewriter, I began to realize it didn’t automatically correct misspelled words. It had a dictionary on a computer chip that identified words you misspelled and beeped to alert you to fix them.
I had my Gibson Dove, so I put the guitar strap around my neck and started playing and typing lyrics [he sings softly], “Well, I was born in a small town / And I live in a small town.” But as I typed my lyrics fast, the machine let off beeps to flag spelling errors: “All my friends—beep!— are so—beep!—small town / My parents—beep!—live in the same small—beep!—town.” Upstairs, I could hear Vicky and my Aunt Tootes, who was also our nanny, dying of laughter over the beeps. Finally I yelled out, “Would you guys shut up!”

Once the song started to come, it came fast. I’d sing some lyrics, type them out and play the music on my guitar. Then I’d start at the beginning to sing what I had to inspire additional lines.

Eventually I went upstairs, looked at Vicky and Aunt Tootes, and said, “I’m glad you guys think this is so funny.” They started laughing again. I said, “OK, now laugh at this.” I played them “Small Town,” and they went dead quiet. When you play what you’ve done for a family member and you get that kind of reaction, you know you have something.

For some time, my friends and I had been talking about how small towns and the people who lived there were getting screwed economically as America changed. Soon I realized that “Small Town” was more than a phrase of my own frustration. It was a song that felt as though Woody Guthrie had sent it to me from the grave.
That’s when I started working with Willie Nelson and Neil Young to organize Farm Aid. We planned a concert like Live Aid for September ’85 in Champaign, Ill. The purpose was to raise money for families trying to save their family farms from new laws that favored corporate farms.

The next step for “Small Town” was to arrange and rehearse it with my band. I had a second house a few minutes outside of Bloomington that operated as an office. I had added a recording studio and turned the two-car garage into rehearsal space.

In April ’85, the band and I went into the garage to arrange “Small Town.” I sat there like a conductor with the band facing me. There was no writing out parts. We had it all in our heads. I just told my drummer, Kenny Aronoff, what I wanted—a pounding beat—and we went to work.

“Small Town’s” opener was already written in my chord progressions. That was the hook line. The trick going forward was to keep the song simple and not over-arrange it. But we had a problem.

The song was verse-chorus, verse-chorus, verse chorus—it felt too same-samey. The solution was to add a bridge. In the garage, I took one of the verses [he sings softly]—“No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from / I cannot forget the people who love me / Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town / And people let me be just what I want to be”—and rewrote the melody to make it a bridge. This broke up the song’s sameness.

“Small Town’s” arrangement was critical. I knew there was no way I could walk out on stage and sing and play it acoustically. The audience would tune out. We also had to arrange the song in a higher key. Back then, I tended to write songs in a lower key and transpose them to a higher key later so I could belt them out on stage.

When the arrangement was done, we walked into the studio inside the house to record. I only sang on the record, I didn’t play. Larry Crane was on lead guitar. We finished the song in just two or three takes.

The only instrument we added later was John Cascella’s organ. For some reason, he wasn’t there when we had recorded. He came in later that night, and we overdubbed his part. At first, John kept trying to play complex stuff that didn’t work. Finally I said, “John, damn it, stop noodling around. Just go to those big chords.” What he played next was beautiful.

Before the single was released in November ’85, we needed something for MTV. In Bloomington and Seymour, we took out ads asking for snapshots and home movies. We were flooded with material.

The video was good, but I always felt it ruined the song. Songs are meant for dreaming, and the video gave my lyrics a literal context. The focus was all on me instead of letting listeners imagine their own small-town experiences.

I never used that tan typewriter again. Now I have no idea where it is—probably gathering dust in one of my storage units.

On April 28th, Heartland rocker John Mellencamp will release his 23rd full-length album, “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies” featuring Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, on Republic Records. Sad Clowns & Hillbillies returns Mellencamp to the musical eclecticism that is, itself, a reflection of his wide-ranging musings on life. John Mellencamp is an authentic voice of American music and master storyteller with a commitment to creating traditional rock & roll, bittersweet songs of happiness and melancholia, and fervent political dissent. His passions and experiences resonate beautifully in this showcase of his music.  Sad Clowns & Hillbillies showcases a poet who has wisely used the years between youth and the present day to become an absolute master of songwriting and interpretation. That passion and experience resonates most beautifully in this showcase of his music.”

Mellencamp s new single is “Grandview” featuring Country music star Martina McBride. He released the track, “Easy Target” in January as a continuation of Mellencamp s journey to convey the truth through this passionate and plain-spoken song. The video’s release occurred on the eve of the inauguration. The song focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement as well as gun violence in America. The black-and-white video showcases Mellencamp’s slick delivery with McBride’s powerhouse vocals — both dripping in heartland coolness. “Just an old country boy, wearing my Osh-Kosh boots / Walked by the trailer factory, every day on my way to school / Early on in life the only thing I wanted to do / Was to buy me a trailer and move it down to Grandview,” Mellencamp sings in the opening verse.

This summer, Mellencamp will tour for 22 stops across North America for his all-new Sad Clowns & Hillbillies tour kicking off on June 5th in Denver, Colorado with special guests, Opening up on most days will be country legend Emmylou Harris although Jewel will fill in for her during the two shows in Oregon, and Lily & Madeleine, a folk-pop sister duo from Indianapolis.

Sad Clowns and Hillbillies is the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer s follow up to 2014 s critically-acclaimed, Plain Spoken, Mellencamp s fourth consecutive Top 20 album, dating back to 2007 s Freedom Road.

 

Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is self produced by John Mellencamp.

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John Mellencamp’s latest single offers a raspy diagnosis of America’s current political ailments. “Let the poor be damned, and the easy targets too,” he sings, before adding sarcastically, “all are created equal – equally beneath me and you.” Mellencamp released the song on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, though the track does not directly reference the new president.
He’s had one of the greatest careers in pop and rock, and hated almost every minute of it
“Easy Target” features late-night, smoky-bar piano and an ornate string section, and Mellencamp delivers his grim lines in a dry croak.

He sings about a world where everyone is on their own and no one is safe: “Easy targets all along the avenue/ Living here in sucker town, baby me and you/ Behind the bars to keep each other apart/ Easy targets, our country’s broken heart.”
During a recent conversation with Katie Couric, Mellencamp suggested the song came to him in one jolt of inspiration. “I didn’t even want to write the song,” he said. “All of a sudden, I just started singing ‘easy target’ … as fast as I could write is how long it took me to write the song.”
Though “Easy Target” suggests a bleak view of the future, Mellencamp told Couric that he’s “not really worried about anything.” He presented himself as an outsider observing politics with academic curiosity. “I want to see how weird it’s going to get,” he explained. “All of the things that we grew up believing, now it’s upside down … Do you know what’s going to happen? When a candidate just lies, and people accept the lies?… I’m going to just sit back and just see how weird it gets.”

Premiered live on Yahoo’s The Katie Couric Interview “Easy Target” is John’s reflection on the state of our country. An outspoken artist, Mellencamp continues his journey to convey the truth through this passionate and plain-spoken song.

John Mellencamp Revisits the Eighties

When John Mellencamp’s band came onstage in black-tie outfits and launched into 2014’s “Lawless Times,” it briefly seemed like this might not be your typical Mellencamp hits revue. But then “Small Town” came next and the show quickly became a 1980s sing-along with “Paper in Fire,” “Check It Out,” “Authority Song” and, of course, “Pink Houses.” “Rain on the Scarecrow” began with a haunting violin/accordion intro. This song has probably been done at every Farm Aid since the very first one, but it never loses its power. It’s basically the benefit’s theme song, and sadly, it reminds all too relevant.

John Mellencamp performs his fifth song “Rain on the Scarecrow”  at Farm Aid 2016 at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, on September 17th. John Mellencamp Revisits the Eighties

John Mellencamp performs his second song at Farm Aid 2016 at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, on September 17th. “Small Town”

Farm Aid was started by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp in 1985 to keep family farmers on the land and has worked since then to make sure everyone has access to good food from family farmers. Dave Matthews joined Farm Aid’s board of directors in 2001.


John Mellencamp performs “Pink Houses” at the Farm Aid concert in Raleigh, NC on September 13, 2014.

Farm Aid was started by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp in 1985 to keep family farmers on the land and has worked since then to make sure everyone has access to good food from family farmers. Dave Matthews joined Farm Aid’s board of directors in 2001.
For more information about Farm Aid, visit: http://farmaid.org
Farm Aid’s performances are donated by the artists in order to raise funds and raise awareness for family farmers. They’ve raised their voices to help

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American Rock musician  singer John Mellencamp and painter , heartland rock using traditional instrumentation in a rock vein, from Seymour Indiana, In the 1980;s he had huge hits worldwide with “Pink Houses”, “Jack and Diane”  and “Small Town”. But now he feels he wants to write and play music that refelcets his age, his new album “Plain Spoken”