One Year After His Death, John Prine Still Just Wants to Make You Dance

by Jim Casey

For 50 years, all singer/songwriter John Prine wanted to do was make you dance. A two-step. A jig. A head nod. A hand tap. Whether you realize it or not, John was probably successful.

Like more than half a million people in the U.S., John Prine left this world as the result of COVID-19. John, 73, died on April 7, 2020, from complications of the virus. Within the span of 20 days in 2020, country music lost Kenny Rogers (March 20, natural causes), Joe Diffie (March 29, COVID-19), and John Prine.

Before the ball dropped to ring in 2021, country music would lose Charlie Daniels (July 6), Jerry Jeff Walker (Oct. 23), Billy Joe Shaver (Oct. 28), Charley Pride (Dec. 12), and more.

It was a devastating year, on so many fronts.

If it feels like we didn’t get a chance to mourn many of these artists, it’s because we didn’t. Maybe with everything that was going on, we couldn’t. But now, we should take a moment.

John Prine gave country music a lot of happiness during his lifetime. He will continue to do that beyond the grave with his catalog of songs. That’s the beauty of John’s music. It lives on, like the last song he recorded before he died, “I Remember Everything,” which Brandi Carlile performed in John’s honor at the 2021 Grammy Awards.

You Know John Prine

Maybe you never saw John Prine perform. Perhaps you never heard his voice on country radio (it would be a miracle if you did). Maybe you don’t own one of his albums (start with his 1971 self-titled debut if you don’t). Perhaps you don’t recognize his songs “Sam Stone,” “Paradise,” or “Christmas in Prison.”

Maybe you don’t know John Prine the singer. And that’s okay. There’s still time. Music is about discovery.

However, every fan of music knows John’s songs, whether you know it or not: Bonnie Raitt’s “Angel From Montgomery,” George Strait’s “I Just Want to Dance With You,” David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.”

Check the credits. All John Prine songs, even if he was initially uncredited—at his own behest—on Coe’s Top 10 hit.

Have you ever pounded a beer mug on a bar table while DAC’s “perfect country and western song” blares from a honky-tonk jukebox? Have you ever danced with your significant other while King George croons his 1998 No. 1 hit? Have you ever belted “To believe in this livin’ is just a hard way to go” with Bonnie?

If you have, you know John Prine. If you haven’t, you should now.

Dancin’ Hearts

Over the course of his 50-year career, John won four Grammy Awards (two posthumously) and was the recipient of the Recording Academy’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In addition, he earned six awards from the Americana Music Association.

John was never a darling of the charts, but his songs painted melodic masterpieces that will reverberate for the next 50 years—hopefully longer.

In 1999, John recorded a duet with Iris DeMent, “In Spite of Ourselves.” The tune, which John penned, blends his bawdy wit and down-home charm. John and Iris joined forces during the song’s chorus: “In spite of ourselves, we’ll end up a-sittin’ on a rainbow / Against all odds, honey, we’re the big door prize / We’re gonna spite our noses right off of our faces / There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts dancin’ in our eyes.”

That was John’s music in a nutshell: big old hearts dancin’ in our eyes.

All along, we think John just wanted us to dance. A two-step. A jig. A head nod. A hand tap. Let’s honor John in 2021 by keeping his music alive.