From The New York Times (William Grimes):
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.”
A few weeks later, when Mr. Prine was in New York, Mr. Kristofferson invited him onstage at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village, where he was appearing with Carly Simon, and introduced him to the audience.
“No way somebody this young can be writing so heavy,” he said. “John Prine is so good, we may have to break his thumbs.”
The record executive Jerry Wexler, who was in the audience, signed Mr. Prine to a contract with Atlantic Records the next day.
Music writers at the time were eager to crown a successor to Mr. Dylan, and Mr. Prine, with his nasal, sandpapery voice and literate way with a song, came ready to order. His debut album, called simply “John Prine” and released in 1971, included songs that became his signatures. Some gained wider fame after being recorded by other artists.
They included “Sam Stone,” about a drug-addicted war veteran (with the unforgettable refrain “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes”); “Hello in There,” a heart-rending evocation of old age and loneliness; and “Angel From Montgomery,” the hard-luck lament of a middle-aged woman dreaming about a better life, later made famous by Bonnie Raitt…
Mr. Dylan, listing his favorite songwriters in a 2009 interview, put Mr. Prine front and center. “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” he said. “Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.”
John Prine was born on Oct. 10, 1946, in Maywood, Ill., a working-class suburb of Chicago, to William and Verna (Hamm) Prine. His father, a tool-and-die maker at the American Can Company, and his mother had moved from the coal town of Paradise, Ky., in the 1930s.
Mr. Prine later wrote a ruefully bitter song titled “Paradise,” in which he sang:
John grew up in a country music-loving family. He learned guitar as a young teenager from his grandfather and brother and began writing songs…
…Roger Ebert, the film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times, wandered into the club while Mr. Prine was performing. He liked what he heard and wrote Mr. Prine’s first review, under the headline “Singing Mailman Who Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few Words.”
Mr. Prine went on tour in 2018 to promote “Tree of Forgiveness,” and after a two-night stand at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville — known there as the mother church of country music — Margaret Renkl, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, wrote, under the headline “American Oracle”:
“The mother church of country music, where the seats are scratched-up pews and the windows are stained glass, is the place where the new John Prine — older now, scarred by cancer surgeries, his voice deeper and full of gravel — is most clearly still the old John Prine: mischievous, delighting in tomfoolery, but also worried about the world.”