John Prine is a legendary singer-songwriter who shared a decades-long mutual admiration and friendship with award-winning singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson. Prine succumbed to ongoing complications from COVID-19 on April 7.
Kris Kristofferson is best known as a prolific songwriter who is largely credited with discovering John Prine in 1970 when Prine was playing in a club in Chicago called the Fifth Peg, according to the New York Times. That chance encounter was the catalyst for John Prine getting a record deal with Atlantic records.
The two men collaborated musically throughout the decades. According to John Prine’s website, “Kris Kristofferson became one of his earliest advocates; their friendship has lasted decades and they have toured together extensively over the years.”
Here is what you need to know:
1. Prine & Kristofferson Both Served in the Army Before Pursuing Music
John Prine served two years in the Army and was working as a mail carrier in Chicago when he started playing clubs around the city, according to IMBD. His brother taught him some guitar when he was 14. He told musician Johnny Burns that growing up his family would listen mostly to country and rock-a-billy music. “I always figured my music come from somewhere between what come across the radio and somewhere between here [Chicago] and Kentucky,” Prine said.
Kristofferson “served in the army as an Airborne Ranger helicopter pilot and achieved the rank of Captain. In 1965, Kristofferson turned down an assignment to teach at West Point and, inspired by songwriters like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, moved to Nashville to pursue his music,” according to his website.
2. Kristofferson’s Music Career was Starting to Take Off in 1970 When He Discovered Prine
In 1970 Johnny Cash had a hit with Sunday Morning Coming Down, which was penned by Krisofferson, so by the time he crossed paths with Prine in Chicago when they met at the Fifth Peg, Kristofferson already had some connections on the music scene. According to Rolling Stone, “Kristofferson soon invited Prine onstage in front of an industry-heavy audience at New York’s Bitter End. The next morning, Atlantic Records president Jerry Wexler offered Prine a $25,000 contract.”
Prine told Rolling Stone, “This is my first night in New York, so it was like Oz to me.”
That same year Kristofferson wrote Me and Bobby McGee, which was recorded by many but Janis Joplin’s version is probably the best known.
Kristofferson told Americansongwriter.com, “Now you can’t think of that song without thinking of Janis. Because she made it her own. But I love the way Jerry Lee [Lewis] sang it too. And Willie [Nelson] and Roger [Miller]. And Gordon Lightfoot. Rambling Jack Elliot. It’s one of those songs that a lot of people can own.”
3.Prine Always Credited Kristofferson With His Opportunity & Success
In 2015 he told the San Diego Union Tribune, “Kris was really hot at the time, and media people all across the nation wanted to do stories on this country singer-songwriter who was writing better than anyone since Hank Williams, Sr. In his interviews, Kris would say: ‘Hey, there’s this guy in Chicago named John Prine you should know about.’ He did this in interview after interview. Through him, I was introduced to all these people before I had a record out.
“Kris did more for me than anyone, without looking for anything for himself (in return). I always make a point of telling musicians, and other singer-songwriters, that at no time did Kris ever introduce me to his music publisher or record label. He introduced me to people who were good people, and let it fly from there. After being in the music business for 45 years, I can see how rare that is.”
4.Kristofferson Wrote & Recorded a Song & Gave Prine a Shout Out in the Title
The song is called Jesus is a Capricorn (Owed to John Prine). Kristofferson told Uncut.co.uk, “I wrote “Jesus Was A Capricorn (Owed To John Prine)” because I was so influenced by John. When I heard his songs I felt like his writing had kicked me into doing it. You take things from all over the place, though you don’t always admit it! I was really influenced by Roger Miller, Shel Silverstein and Mickey Newbury. Everybody you admire influences you somehow in your art.”
5.Prine & Kristofferson Continued to Collaborate Throughout the Last Decade
The singer-songwriter friends continued to play shows together every couple of years even in the latest decade, pulling from their robust catalogues. In 2011 the men played King’s Theatre in Melbourne, FL. That same year Prine released a live album called John Prine in Person and on Stage.
In 2013 they played Magnolia Fest at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, their appreciation for each other and enjoyment of playing music together shining through in a youtube video of that night. The same thing can be said for another performance of the song Paradise in a 2015 video posted above of the duo playing at The Civic Theatre in San Diego.
Heavy has reached out to Kris Kristofferson for a statement on the passing of his long time friend.