John Prine Tribute Band

Growing up as a boy, my favourite artists were always Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. It would take
about 30 years for me to recognise there was somebody who’s music fit straight in-between the
From a young age, I was always aware of John Prine, mainly due to my daddy who he claimed was
his all-time favourite, along with Mick Hanly, the singer songwriter from Co. Kilkenny. My father was
a musician also and played all over the country and abroad on his own and with various bands. I
remember listening to him sing The Speed the sound of loneliness from as far as I could remember.
A few others such as Sam Stone and New Train I remember well too.
That’s as far as my interest in John Prine went up until recently.

I started reading up on his life, how he started playing in a small club in Chicago called the Fifth Peg,
and how he was luckily noticed by a famous movie critic, Roger Ebert which ultimately ignited his
career. Ebert wrote a glowing review—“Singing Mailman Who Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few
Words”—that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, October 9th, 1970, a day before John Prine’s 24th
birthday. It was the first review Prine ever received, a birthday gift in the papers. For Ebert, Prine

was “sneaky good”: “He appears on stage with such modesty he almost seems to be backing into the
spotlight. He sings rather quietly, and his guitar work is good, but he doesn’t show off. He starts slow.
But after a song or two, even the drunks in the room begin to listen to his lyrics. And then he has
you.” The crowds kept coming back to hear Prine, who signed on to play every Friday, Saturday and
Sunday, striking a chord somewhere between country, rock, and folk that sounded pretty good to
His stories about playing Hank Williams songs for his daddy, while he sat at the kitchen table brought
back familiar memories of mine also as a boy.
I started listening to all his songs while working late at night, and every couple of days a new song
would come on and just blow me away completely. The first was Hello in There. How a guy of just 20
years of age could write something so deep about something that he should not be able to relate to
was unbelievable to me. It’s a simple melody with a painful ode to a plaintive retiree and his wife
Loretta, who sit around with “nothing much to do;” the last verse serves as a soft injunction to
everyone: “So if you’re walking down the street sometime and spot some hollow ancient eyes, please
don’t just pass ‘em by and stare as if you didn’t care, say, ‘Hello in there, hello’.
The second song to hit me was Sam Stone, once I got a deeper understanding of what he was trying
to portray. It’s significant that Prine’s Vietnam character was not a protester but rather a working-
class kid from Chicago, a G.I. who started shooting heroin to ease the pain of his knee injury and
then couldn’t stop. The song’s crowning touch, is the chorus, which is sung from the perspective of
Sam’s young daughter, who couldn’t understand why all the money disappeared down “a hole in
Daddy’s arm” and why life wasn’t like the sweet songs on the radio. These songs promised
everything was going to work out by the final chorus, and that wasn’t happening to her father.
His songs were not like that, not like the sugary songs of pop or country radio; they were droll,
deadpan observations on everyday life, stories so understated that you often had to hear them
twice to get the joke—or the knife stab of fate. You get the impression that John Prine often feels
like a friendly neighbour, a buddy next door who occasionally comes over after work, pulls up a
chair, cracks open a beer, and tells you all about Jimmy down the street, chuckling through every
sentence. Then, after he’s had a few, you notice a change: what was funny before now seems pretty
bizarre; a few uncomfortable truths have entered the conversation, and you can only nod your head
in unspoken agreement; he’s still grinning—and you are too—but things seem much bigger than
what Jimmy did last week.

Prine’s signature move was to make the listener comfortable—playing “the same three damn
chords” will do that—and then surprise with an unexpected joke, a punch to the gut or an
uncomfortable detail or home truth. He writes about characters plucked right out of the country
audience and puts them in familiar predicaments about marriage, work and home
The idea to do this professional tribute show started off as a bit of a running joke, mainly because I’d
play John Prine songs any chance I got, at parties, gigs, sit down sessions etc. When I mentioned it to
my dad, who would normally be wary of such ideas he said absolutely, “you’re the man to do it”. You
could say that a fire started burning in my belly and I was determined to do this. Not only do it but
make sure it was absolutely perfect down to every last detail.
I started by making my list of songs I wanted to play, learning them off word for word along with
Johns own introductions and classic antidotes. I’d study his movements, dress sense, humour and
everything about him until I was happy that we were ready to take this show on the road.