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826  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / Detroit Free Press JM Interview on: November 14, 2010, 12:39:12 pm
John Mellencamp takes back-to-basics approach on his new CD


John Mellencamp long ago dropped his Johnny Cougar pop persona to become a far more complex and substantial musician. His album from earlier this year, "No Better Than This," is a beautifully realized collection of deeply felt songs recorded at three historic sites in the U.S. and produced by T Bone Burnett. Using vintage equipment, Mellencamp and his band rolled tape in Memphis' legendary Sun Studio; the San Antonio, Texas, hotel room where blues pioneer Robert Johnson once recorded; and First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga.

On his way to a show in Indianapolis, only some 60-plus miles from his hometown of Seymour, Ind., Mellencamp spoke to the Free Press about his new album, his philosophy about playing gigs and his upcoming multimedia collaboration with Stephen King. Mellencamp and his band perform Friday at Detroit's Fox Theatre, with the film "It's About You" kicking off the evening at 6:45 p.m. Directed by Kurt Markus, the documentary chronicles the making of "No Better Than This."

Question: How did you come up with the idea of recording "No Better Than This" in such historic venues?

Answer: I was on tour with Dylan (last year) and had written "Save Some Time To Dream," started writing more songs, then got to the point where I needed to record this stuff. So while playing all these shows with Dylan and Willie Nelson I looked at the schedule, saw we'd be close to Sun (Studio), close to the church in Savannah and in (San Antonio) Texas, and realized we had days off there. So I thought, "Let's try and make a record."

Q: What was it like to record at Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins had their first sessions?

A: First of all, we couldn't record during the day because they have tours of the studio. It wasn't until 7 o'clock at night that we could get started. It was pretty interesting to walk out of there at 3 in the morning, walk out when all the rest of Memphis was asleep. We usually worked from 7 p.m. to 6 in the morning. Sam Phillips (Sun Studio founder and record producer) made it quite easy; we saw the X's on the floor and knew that's where the drums and guitars went, and that's where I should sing from. He messed around with the sound in that crazy little room and long ago decided what was best, and we followed along.

Q: Your very first band was Crepe Soul, which you started when you were all of 14. That would've been during the heyday of Motown Records. Was Motown a big influence on you?

A: You know when I first started writing songs I realized that what I wanted to do or try to do was be Woody Guthrie on one hand and Smokey Robinson on the other; he wrote all those Motown hits. As for other Detroit artists, I was influenced by (Bob) Seger and Mitch Ryder for sure.

Q: What was the thinking behind recording your new album with a single microphone on a vintage 1955 Ampex recorder, and in mono to boot?

A: Recorded music in the beginning was made to capture a moment, capture a performance. Now there's no performance to capture, there's only the building of a song from separate parts. What I wanted was to go back to the days of no overdubs, no tweaking, no Auto-Tuning or pitch control like we have now. I said to T Bone, "Let's make this about music, not production. If we're going to go into these old places, let's set up a single mic and do it that way." He said, "That's taking a big chance."

Q: With no overdubs, that meant that every song on the album is a complete performance. Were there endless takes before you got what you wanted?

A: No, not really ... we had some good players. Nobody had ever heard any of the songs until I played them 5 minutes before we recorded; only T Bone and I knew the songs; I gave him a demo tape of me playing them on acoustic (guitar). But the musicians never heard the songs beforehand and that was all on purpose; I wanted to get people's first reactions. The most we took a song was three or four takes, which was quite different than something like "Hurts So Good" (Mellencamp's hit single from 1982). We cut that song something like 123 times. It was just stupid; we made the same mistakes (every time), we were kids and couldn't play at all. "Easter Eve" (from the new album) is 7 minutes long and that song is the first take.

Q: What's the status of this multimedia collaboration between you and author Stephen King, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

A: We've made a recording of all the songs, including ones sung by Kris Kristofferson, who plays the father; Elvis Costello, who plays the Devil; Rosanne Cash, who's the mother, and Sheryl Crow, who plays a ghost. They sang all the songs and T Bone produced the music.

It's the "Sgt. Pepper's" of Americana music. We did the dialogue and that includes Meg Ryan and Matthew McConaughey. We're putting it all together and are trying to get this staged in Atlanta during the spring or fall of next year. Liv Ullman, who was Ingmar Bergman's muse, will be directing. ...This is a hell of an undertaking; just getting everybody together to read and sing is like putting kitties in a bag. Steve and I started working on it 10 years ago.

Q: How difficult is it for you to structure a concert? I'm sure you've got fans who would be more than happy with a show of familiar hits.

A: Well I have to tell you there is a lot of new material in the show. It's
2 hours and 20 minutes long and we play almost every song off the new album and try to cover the hits. ...

T Bone said to me, "John, you had the misfortune to be a rock star in the '80s and '90s, and now what are you going to do?" You're a fool to think you can keep the same intensity level or always have the same level of popularity in your career. I already have a measure of longevity, I've got 20-some albums, but you look to Dylan and Willie and John Cash and see how they did it. In any career that long there's going to be ups and downs. If I did only hits I'd be playing at Pine Knob, so the fact I'm playing at the Fox should show that this is not going to be only a greatest hits thing. All the shows (so far) have been good, reviews seem to be good, and the audience responds well. It's a balancing act; you can't just do only the hits and try to be something you were 30 years ago; you look silly.
827  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / South Bend, IN / South Bend Review on: November 14, 2010, 12:25:30 pm
Mellencamp daring and creative at Morris
Tribune Staff Writer
SOUTH BEND — The blues fit John Mellencamp well.

So do rockabilly, country and spirituals, the other three main ingredients for much of his concert Saturday at the Morris Performing Arts Center.

Mellencamp devoted more than two-thirds of the set list to new songs and reworked versions of older songs, usually in one or more of those four styles, before ending with a rock set that was mostly greatest hits but still managed to sneak in two recent songs with full-band arrangements.

It takes daring and creativity to do that, and Mellencamp and his band proved they have both — as well as the material to back it up.

Much of Saturday's set list came from Mellencamp's stellar new album, "No Better Than This," and his 2008 masterpiece, "Life, Death, Love and Freedom."

He recorded "No Better Than This" at the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., and Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson once recorded. T Bone Burnett produced the album and used a 1955 mono recorder and a single, vintage RCA microphone to record it.

For this tour, Mellencamp's divided the show into three parts: small combo, solo acoustic (with occasional accompaniment) and full-band rock 'n' roll at the end.

A bare-bones version of "Authority Song" that came close to rockabilly in its sound opened the concert, performed by Mellencamp, guitarists Andy York and Mike Wanchic, bass player John Gunnell using an upright, and drummer Dane Clark, who stood to play a stripped-down drum set.

That led right into the rockabilly of "No One Cares About Me" from the new album and York's double-stop-filled solo and accompaniment that gave the song a jaunty feeling.

Early on, Mellencamp gave a powerful and mesmerizing performance of Son House's "Death Letter," which also featured a fine blues solo on mandolin by Wanchic and a tormented slide guitar solo by York.

"Deep Blue Heart" was a low, dark and gruff blues song that featured a Wanchic solo made up of long, fluid phrases that built to a series of snappy chord changes for its resolution.

"Don't Need This Body" featured ominous solos by York, his picking slow and his choice of notes almost dissonant, while York's banjo and Wanchic's mandolin gave the narrative "Easter Eve" both a mythic and whimsical tone.

Miriam Strum's subtle, long bowing and vibrato on "The West End" gave the song an ominous feel, while her use of vibrato on the lower register gave her fills a haunting quality on "Jackie Brown."

Mellencamp sounded bemused on "Right Behind Me," a song about the devil that borrows from the musical language of spirituals and featured a spare arrangement that Mellencamp's band played with swagger.

Among the song's Mellencamp rearranged, "Check It Out" had a slower tempo and none of its former anthem qualities. Instead, it became an introspective song. He performed "Cherry Bomb" a cappella and solo, his voice strong and nuanced while the audience clapped and sang along.

"Jack and Diane," however, received the most radical makeover, as a country two-step that was more interesting to hear as an alternative than as a replacement for the original. That's especially because the new version lacks the melodrama and import of its observations on life that are the hallmarks of the "American Fool" version.

The final third of the concert featured full-band versions of such hits as "Scarecrow," "What If I Came Knockin'?" and "Paper and Fire," with Gunnell on electric bass and Clark playing a full drum kit, as well as a powerful and dramatic version of "If I Die Sudden" from "Life, Death, Love and Freedom."

Throughout the concert, Mellencamp's voice sounded strong and resonant if a little gravely, which fits his new music well.

His delivery was consoling on "Longest Days," dramatic and nearly speak-sung on "Easter Eve," and proud and enthusiastic on a semi-solo acoustic "Small Town" (Strum and keyboardist Troye Kinnett on accordion joined him at the end and to duet afterward on "Old Rugged Cross").

And, known as a vibrant performer, Mellencamp danced during many of the instrumental breaks during the night, including with a woman from the front row during "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." He also told an amusing story about meeting the devil when he was 15 as the introduction to "Right Behind Me."

York, Wanchic and, often, keyboardist and accordion player Troye Kinnett repeatedly combined their voices for harmony on background vocals that added depth to the arrangements, as on "Walk Tall," "Don't Need This Body" and "Pink Houses."

First, however, Kurt Markus' "It's About You" film opened the show. Shot during Mellencamp's 2009 tour of minor league baseball stadiums with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, the film follows Mellencamp on the road and into the recording sessions for "No Better Than This."

Unfortunately, Markus' intentions seemed to be less about the recording sessions and more about making a visual essay about the state of the nation.

And himself.

Markus' narration repeatedly makes the film about him and the journey he and his son, Ian, took to make the documentary.

His footage from First African Baptist Church, for example, contains no establishing shots to get a sense of how the musicians recorded the material, while his Sun Studios material does better at this, but at Gunter, Markus tells the audience about Mellencamp's entrance into Room 414 rather than show it.

Mellencamp, however, pulled off something rare and inspiring for a "classic rock" musician on Saturday: He brought new and interesting — exhilarating, actually — music to his audience and defiantly refused to be a greatest hits jukebox.

And that is the mark of an artist.
828  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Re: Indy Veterans Day Show - Lack of Respect on: November 12, 2010, 09:18:38 pm
When all those people were booing, someone should have reminded them that in 2007 John performed in front in wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center. He supports the troops even if he doesn't support the war; it's not his fault people misinterpreted his comments.
829  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Re: Indy Veterans Day Show - Lack of Respect on: November 12, 2010, 02:50:58 pm
It's the comments he makes before "Jackie Brown" about how we can always come up with money for bombs and war, but not for feeding our own people and helping those who are down and out. I don't think that is in any way offensive to our troops, but as the man himself said, "people believe what they want to believe, when it makes no sense at all."
830  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Indianapolis, IN (Hinkle) / Review of Hinkle Show on: November 12, 2010, 12:38:34 pm
John Mellencamp, Hinkle Fieldhouse make a historic pairing

By David Lindquist

The "Big Barn" on Butler University's campus has hosted a Billy Graham Crusade and a Sonja Henie ice-skating extravaganza, but Hinkle Fieldhouse rarely is the site of special events on par with a John Mellencamp show.

During Thursday night's performance, Mellencamp mentioned a mystery concert in 1967 as the last rock 'n' roll presentation before his -- surely nothing to match the significance of this Indiana intersection.

It was a night when Hoosier treasures converged. "Pink Houses" and "Jack & Diane" were performed on a stage built on the basketball court, with only a protective tarp separating hallowed hardwood from the musicians and enthusiastic fans.

In the lobby, the open-for-business Spirit Shop sold Bulldog gear a few feet from a display of Mellencamp's paintings.

Hinkle's old-school array of single lights dangled above the audience, reminiscent of past Mellencamp tours in which similar lights were part of stage designs to suggest the aura of a heartland hoops palace.

About 5,000 people caught the show, following a gathering of 2,200 Monday night at Clowes Hall.

Hinkle's historic angle wasn't lost on Butler-Tarkington resident Mike Paredes.

"We know people around the country are dying to be here," the 43-year-old said.

During the screening of a documentary film shown before every date of the "No Better Than This" tour, longtime Mellencamp guitarist Mike Wanchic passed time with his family near the center of the arena.

Wanchic played cornerback for DePauw University's football team in the early '70s, so he's no stranger to the Butler Bowl. Thursday, however, marked his first visit to Hinkle.

The show adhered to the same three-act format witnessed at Clowes: rockabilly, folk and rock. A string of introspective songs in the middle section formed a sermon of sorts, with Mellencamp lauding the "joy of life" he viewed in some faces while decrying the devil that's in everyone.

A few boos were heard during Mellencamp's introduction for "Jackie Brown," a tale of poverty from 1989's "Big Daddy" album. The singer quoted a constitutional pledge to finance the protection and well-being of American citizens and added his view that the protection part is never a problem, but the well-being is.

If this comment was less welcome on Veterans Day than at Clowes, where the same words were cheered, the entire Hinkle audience gave full and respectful attention to mortality message "Longest Days," the song that followed "Jackie Brown."

With Mellencamp friends and family well-represented at Hinkle, perhaps current Butler students made up the smallest demographic.

Freshman Derek Brown attended his first Mellencamp show, however, taking a break from his studies of chemistry and biomedical engineering.

"I like a lot of his old stuff," the 18-year-old North Vernon native said.

And Brown had no complaints about the show's convenient location.

"I'm not going to have any traffic; I'll just walk back to my room," he said.|topnews|img|FRONTPAGE
831  MELLENCAMP.COM ANNOUNCEMENTS / Ticket & Tour Questions / Re: So, How Is The Movie? on: November 09, 2010, 09:43:28 pm
Click here to see a preview:
832  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Re: Kansas City Show - :( on: November 09, 2010, 09:04:27 pm
Someone in the front row said that he was "mad" at Kansas City because the local radio stations were not playing his new music. I can understand being mad at the media, but lets not take it out on the people who pay the ticket prices, who buy the albums, purchase concert items, and who praise him for his accomplishments past and present.

Radio stations in every city fail to play John's new music, so why would he single out Kansas City? I think you've got splinters in the windmills of your mind.
833  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Re: St. Louis, MO Show -- rocked on: November 08, 2010, 03:58:00 pm
I am a dedicated Mellencamp fan. This show was what its like to love his music, new and old.  Great show!  We sat four rows from the stage and it was the concert of a life time for me.

I have been a fan of John since he was Johnny Cougar!!  Have seen him perform many times, (I have lost count!), he and his band has NEVER disappointed me, we sat in the third row from stage/VIP, and it was the best!!!  My only disappointment was to find that the people sitting in seats next to me were NOT fan club members.  Great show!!!<a href="" target="_blank"></a>

I was in the third row, too. 
834  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / The Story Behind John's Walking Stick on: November 08, 2010, 03:54:01 pm
This is the fifth and final post in a series leading up to John Mellencamp’s Nov. 8 and 11 performances at Clowes Hall and Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University.

Last month, paparazzi website INF Daily published images of John Mellencamp walking in New York City with actress pal Meg Ryan.

Mellencamp carried a walking stick on that outing, and the Hoosier rock star also had the stick when he attended the Dalai Lama’s speech at Conseco Fieldhouse in May (where the Robert Scheer image at left was made).

I asked about the accessory during an Oct. 28 conversation with Mellencamp in Bloomington.

He said he doesn’t carry the stick that dates to 1836 — a gift from his wife, Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp — for medical reasons:

“That stick is a dangerous stick — that’s all I’m going to say about it. If you see me with that stick, you know that John isn’t worried about anyone doing much to him.

“Ah, I basically carry it for a joke.

“All gentlemen are supposed to have a walking stick, and who’s a more deserving gentleman than myself?”

During the heyday of the walking stick (more or less 300 years leading up to the age of the automobile, Mellencamp says), men concealed a variety of things inside — swords, knives, guns, maps, newspapers and umbrellas.

“I won’t tell you what’s in my walking stick,” he said. “But there’s something inside."
835  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / St. Louis, MO / Riverfront Times Review on: November 07, 2010, 02:49:12 pm
The Thrill Isn't Gone for John Mellencamp at the Fox Theatre, St. Louis, Saturday, November 6

By Katie Moulton

Taking up an acoustic guitar for "Save Some Time to Dream," John Mellencamp stood alone onstage and told a story about his father, who regularly asks him if he's "having any fun." The roots-rock veteran did look like he was having fun last night at the Fox Theatre, punching all his marks while remaining heartfelt.

Grainy Super 8 footage rolled on a screen stage-front as the Saturday-night crowd hurried to their seats. The film, It's About You, is Mellencamp's opening act: It's a Kurt Markus-shot documentary about 2009's minor league ballpark tour with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and the recording of the album No Better Than This. It chronicles Mellencamp's pilgrimages to significant locations in American musical history: recording at the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Sun Studios in Memphis and Room 414 in the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where blues pioneer Robert Johnson recorded for three days in 1936.

Sometimes these equivalents to touching holy relics - singing from the X where Elvis stood, actually getting baptized - seem silly, but the honesty of Mellencamp's mission comes through in footage of the recording sessions. To see the small band of session players huddled around a single 1940s-era microphone, to think that Better is the first mono-only release to make the top 10 since 1964, and to listen as steady, unobtrusive T-Bone Burnett cajoles profanity-firing Mellencamp into a take - well, that's pretty cool.

I wondered if showing footage of previous performances would dilute the power of that night's performance, but it was pointed out to me that this was the perfect way to familiarize the audience with the new songs they were about to hear live.

With the crowd primed (by the visual narrative) and ready (after a half-hour happy hour between film and music), Mellencamp and his band took the stage with "Authority Song." Emphasizing a country groove, the arrangements featured Mellencamp, crack guitarist Andy York and 35-year compadre Mike Wanchic all on electric, drummer Dane Clark on a stand-up cocktail kit and Jon E. Gee on upright bass. By the seventh song, "Check It Out," from 1987's The Lonesome Jubilee, violinist Miriam Sturm and Troye Kinnett on accordion joined the set-up. Under the wistful, summer-day fiddle, Mellencamp, with cordless mic and snapping fingers, wandered the stage that evoked a town-square dance.

Mellencamp moved into the predominantly solo and acoustic set by taking off his jacket. He punctuated each song - from a cappella "Cherry Bomb" to strange boy-meets-devil fable "Right Behind Me" - with anecdotes, so that it lived up to the "evening with" billing. Before Reagan-era complaint "Jackie Brown," Mellencamp made the one political comment of the night saying, "How the hell do we always have money for bombs and not for food?" Next came the quietest moment of the show with "Longest Days," a simple lullaby of mortality underscored by a poignant, funny story about Mellencamp's beloved grandmother.

The band rejuvenated "Jack and Diane" with an upbeat time signature and island swing, but Mellencamp's emphatic, howling vocals haven't changed a bit. Following with solo, acoustic "Small Town," a call from the crowd broke the singer's concentration - as he had to pause and start over, chuckling, "Yeah, you fucked me up. How many times you think I sang this song?"

Ninety minutes into the show, Mellencamp left the stage briefly a single time - only to reemerge with the fully electric band and a raging "Rain on the Scarecrow." What followed was a bang-up sequence of late-'80s/early-'90s hits - "Paper in Fire," "The Real Life" and "Human Wheels." This was Mellencamp's patent sound - the big chorus, Appalachian fiddle, larger-than-life drums and backup chorus as meaty as his own voice - and it carried all the way through show-closing "Pink Houses" and "R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A." As confident and mature as the whole performance had been, Mellencamp looked most at home here - fronting a band on fire with heartland rock 'n' roll.

Critic's Notebook: I sat next to my mother at this show, who as a young student at Indiana University in the '70s, saw "Johnny Cougar" perform at tiny barroom venues in Bloomington. She remembers that he was panned locally.

This was a rowdy middle-aged crowd. If Mellencamp ever does run for that soon-vacated Indiana Senate seat, the campaign slogan "Cougars for Cougar" just might take him all the way.

1. Authority Song
2. Nobody Cares About Me
3. Deep Blue Heart
4. Death Letter
5. Walk Tall
6. The West End
7. Check It Out
8. Save Some Time to Dream
9. Cherry Bomb
10. Don't Need This Body
11. Right Behind Me
12. Jackie Brown
13. Longest Days
14. Easter Eve
15. Jack and Diane
16. Small Town
17. New Hymn
18. Rain on the Scarecrow
19. Paper in Fire
20. The Real Life
21. Human Wheels
22. If I Die Sudden
23. No Better Than This
24. Pink Houses
25. R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.
836  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / Will Classic Mellencamp Band Reunite? on: November 07, 2010, 02:39:07 pm
Will ‘classic’ Mellencamp band lineup reunite?

By David Lindquist

Near the end of a John Mellencamp interview published in The Sunday Star (, the Hoosier rock star addresses rumors that he might work again with guitarist Larry Crane, drummer Kenny Aronoff, bass player Toby Myers and guitarist Mike Wanchic.

Working with Wanchic wouldn’t be news. He’s been a full-time member in Mellencamp’s band since 1978.

But Crane, Aronoff and Myers were fixtures of Mellencamp’s MTV heyday who left the touring lineup more than a decade ago.

Myers exited on good terms after 1998′s “John Mellencamp” album, citing “retirement” — although he appeared on 2003′s “Trouble No More” project and presently performs with multiple Indiana-based bands.

Aronoff and Mellencamp parted ways in the mid-’90s, largely because Aronoff stacked up a wealth of high-profile jobs with acts other than Mellencamp.

Crane and Mellencamp had a contentious split in the early-’90s, based on Crane’s view that he and his band mates were underpaid.

“I got no bones with any of those guys anymore,” Mellencamp said during an Oct. 28 interview in Bloomington. “If there’s a tenuous relationship, it’s probably between me and Larry — but I’m sure he’s mature enough and I’m mature enough.

“I know what would happen if we got into a room. I’d look at him, he’d look at me and I’d say, ‘Let’s go.’

“That would be the end of it: ‘Let’s go to work.’”

For now, Mellencamp has shelved any reunion of his “classic” supporting cast because he doesn’t want to give the impression that a tour with Crane, Myers and Aronoff would follow.

“This is the best rock band in America right now,” he said of Wanchic, guitarist Andy York, violin player Miriam Sturm, drummer Dane Clark, bass player Jon Gunnell and keyboard player Troye Kinnett. “Why would I abandon them?”

Tomorrow: Mellencamp’s “dangerous” offstage accessory.
837  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / Indianapolis Star Feature on: November 07, 2010, 02:33:08 pm
Mellencamp at ease, no hits in sight

By David Lindquist

"Never wanted to be no pop singer.

Never wanted to write no pop songs."

-- Opening lines of "Pop Singer," a Top 20 single for John Mellencamp in 1989.

In retrospect, John Mellencamp couldn't have been much clearer about wanting to change his career path.

He devoted MTV hit "Pop Singer" to complaints about trendy haircuts, photo shoots and showbiz schmoozing.

The song arrived at the end of Mellencamp's go-go 1980s, a decade packed with nine Top 10 singles and six platinum-selling albums for the Seymour native.

Many listeners interpreted "Pop Singer" as the work of someone unappreciative of success.

Today, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer says the intended message was a desire to stop "chasing hit records."

Seated in his aluminum Airstream trailer outside IU Auditorium one day before the launch of a tour that includes two Indianapolis dates this week, Mellencamp said life on top -- or within striking distance of Reagan-era icons Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Prince -- proved to be unfulfilling.

"You just become a monkey on a string," he said. "But I couldn't quit. I had only learned to do stuff one way."

Across the next two decades, Mellencamp managed to buck pop-star convention in notable, if not earthshaking, ways:

» He didn't tour to promote "Pop Singer" and its accompanying album, "Big Daddy."

» He became a painter of portraits, landscapes and social commentary.

» He directed and starred in 1992 film "Falling from Grace."

» He dabbled with dance-club rhythms on 1996 album "Mr. Happy Go Lucky."

» He played a series of free, unadvertised shows in public parks and civic spaces in 2000.

» He recorded an album of blues covers, "Trouble No More," in 2003.

» He's worked with Stephen King on a long-gestating musical play, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," that's expected to premiere in 2011 or 2012.

"Life is exhausting," Mellencamp said. "To make it not exhausting, you have to continue to challenge yourself and try to do something that you never thought you could do.

"He said to me, 'John, you had the misfortune of becoming a big rock star in the '80s. Now how are you going to finish your career with some dignity?' We're trying to figure out how to make that work."

At the same time, Mellencamp said, he doesn't regret making the music that made him a star.

"We knew we had to have hit records," he said. "Critics weren't going to like us, and my songwriting ability was pretty undeveloped at the time. I had a record deal, and I had only written two songs."

Volunteering a thumbnail summary of ways he's changed since signing that first recording contract in 1975, Mellencamp is 59, he's traveled the globe, been married three times, raised five children and "fought with everybody he's ever come in contact with."

One standout lyric of "No Better Than This" is found in the song "Right Behind Me": "I know Jesus, and I know the Devil. They're both inside me, all the time."

Mellencamp claims he can't analyze his lyrics in terms of one line being any better or worse than the others.

"All I know is that my last three albums (dating to 2007's "Freedom's Road"), songwriting-wise, were just handed to me," he said. "I didn't really do anything. You hear guys say, 'I'm just a conduit.' I'm a conduit for somebody now. I don't struggle. I don't have to rewrite."

When the tour visits Butler University's Clowes Hall on Monday and Hinkle Fieldhouse on Thursday, it will be the first time Mellencamp has played a legitimate "home" show in Indianapolis.

In addition to homes in Bloomington, Savannah, Ga., and Daufuskie Island, S.C., Mellencamp recently established residency in Indianapolis with his wife, Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp, and teenage sons Hud and Speck.

Hud, a Golden Gloves boxing champion, trains at the Police Athletic League gym in Haughville.

"Indianapolis has grown up to be such a nice town," Mellencamp said. "Not that Bloomington's not, but every now and then, it's nice to go to a different restaurant and kind of have a date night."

Regarding Hinkle Fieldhouse -- a rare "arena" stop on a tour that includes theaters such as Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., and Radio City Music Hall in New York City -- Mellencamp expressed concern that the venue may be too big.

"We want John Mellencamp fans here," he said. "This is not the casual guy, 'Hey, let's go listen to Mellencamp, party and get drunk' tour."

"So many people think about me as 'Pink Houses' and 'Jack & Diane.' That's great. I'm very fortunate to have those songs. But I've written thousands of songs that aren't like that."

More than 20 non-pop compositions are found on 2008 album "Life, Death, Love and Freedom" and this year's "No Better Than This."

Both projects were produced by T-Bone Burnett, known for overseeing the soundtrack for the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and the Robert Plant-Alison Krauss album "Raising Sand."

"No Better Than This" is a collection of folk, blues and rockabilly tunes recorded at three historic sites: Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn. (site of hit-making by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins), First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga. (which bills itself as the longest-running black congregation in North America), and the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, (where blues icon Robert Johnson cut 16 songs in 1936).

As the first mono-only album to reach Billboard magazine's Top 10 since James Brown's "Pure Dynamite! Live at the Royal" in 1964, "No Better Than This" finally makes a break from Mellencamp's pop singer days.

"T-Bone has been such a good influence on me," he said.

For the 48-date "No Better Than This" tour, Mellencamp has ditched a standard format of performing greatest hits interspersed with a few tracks from the current album.

New material, rarities and his best-known songs have been overhauled and slotted into stylistic segments across a two-hour show.

Accompanied by guitarists Mike Wanchic and Andy York, violin player Miriam Sturm, drummer Dane Clark, bass player Jon Gunnell and keyboard player Troye Kinnett, Mellencamp plays a rockabilly transformation of "The Authority Song," a Nashville-friendly version of "No Better Than This" and a steamroller blues-rock rendition of "If I Die Sudden."

When collecting a lifetime achievement award for songwriting at September's Americana Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn., Mellencamp credited Burnett for being the singer's artistic conscience:

Yet Mellencamp hasn't completely closed the door on an era that produced raucous fan favorites such as "Hurts So Good," "Play Guitar" and "Lonely Ol' Night."

He recently wrote material for a "reunion" album that would feature himself, Wanchic and three musicians identified with Mellencamp's MTV days: guitarist Larry Crane, bass player Toby Myers and drummer Kenny Aronoff.

Mellencamp shelved the project, however, because he didn't want to give the impression that a tour with Crane, Myers and Aronoff would follow.

"This is the best rock band in America right now," he said. "Why would I abandon them?"
838  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / St. Louis, MO / Mellencamp reworks old hits in a mostly satisfying show on: November 07, 2010, 01:43:11 pm
Mellencamp reworks old hits in a mostly satisfying show

By Daniel Durchholz Special to the Post-Dispatch

It’s not like John Mellencamp to put on airs, but on Saturday night at the Fox Theatre, a slick, recorded introduction brought him onstage, touting his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame credentials and calling him “the poet laureate of the interstates.”

The intro is likely something he cadged from his recent touring partner Bob Dylan, whose stage introduction refers to him as “the poet laureate of rock and roll.”

Also like Dylan, Mellencamp has radically reworked some of his old songs in order to keep himself interested while sating the portion of the crowd he called “nostalgic people.” It usually worked, as on a truncated, a cappella version of “Cherry Bomb,” and on “Small Town,” which he performed solo, on acoustic guitar.

But sometimes the results weren’t so satisfying. Carried along by a rumbling shuffle beat, the protagonists of “Jack and Diane” seemed more like Jack and Jill tumbling down the hill instead of hanging out at the Tastee Freez. 

Still, it’s to his credit that Mellencamp mostly refuses to rest on his laurels. Much of the two-hour show featured recent songs, including a handful from his acclaimed new album “No Better Than This,” which delves deep into American roots music.

Among the new songs, the standouts included a stark, impassioned reading of “The West End,” a song he said was about what happens “when greed takes over”; the rollicking story song “Easter Eve”; and the weary but wise “Save Some Time to Dream,” which sounds like it could be his answer to Dylan’s “Forever Young.”

Though Mellencamp’s six-piece band was used sparingly throughout much of the show, the latter third was given over to full-tilt arrangements of his hits, including “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Paper in Fire,” “Pink Houses” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”

Because he could set his own pace and wasn’t limited by time constraints, the Fox show was far more satisfying than Mellencamp’s two area appearances last year – with Dylan and Willie Nelson at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, and at Farm Aid, held at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

But the evening did start on a bit of a sour note. In place of an opening act, there was a screening of “It’s About You,” Kurt Markus’ documentary about Mellencamp’s 2009 tour and the making of “No Better Than This.” The film was fine, but the theater’s doors were held until after it had already started, creating an unnecessary rush for the seats once fans were admitted. The gaffe was an insult to everyone who made a point of getting to the Fox early enough to see it.
839  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / St. Louis, MO / St. Louis Show Review on: November 07, 2010, 01:18:55 am
Great show at the beautiful Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis tonight. John was in good spirits and put on an energetic and entertaining performance. There were some very funny moments. Before "Right Behind Me" he told a long story about how he had the devil trapped in an apple tree in his backyard when he was 14 and the devil told him if he could keep him up in the tree for a week he wouldn't take John's soul. John said a pretty girl walked by after two days and he went after her and if he hadn't, we would all be saved from the devil right now. He also said the devil doesn't have horns and a tail, he dresses nice and is very intelligent.  I saw both shows in Bloomington last weekend and this story wasn't told at either of them, so this appears to be something new.

During "Small Town" somebody yelled something out (I was told later a guy yelled "Seymour, Indiana," but I can't be sure) and John started laughing and said "you f**ked me up. I've sung this song how many times? And because of you I f**ked up." He said it in a jovial, light-hearted way, but that was a first for me, hearing a fan rattle John. He didn't start the song over, he picked it up from where he messed up.                                    

"Thinking About You" appears to be gone from the setlist for good, and it hasn't been replaced by anything else. "Troubled Land" also appears to be gone for good, but it has been replaced by "Human Wheels," which is a good move by John in my opinion. "Troubled Land," while a fantastic song, has been a little overplayed in the live setting since 2007 and "Human Wheels" sounds fresher and at least briefly represents John's underrated '90s work, a decade he completely skipped over in the Bloomington shows last weekend.

The new rockabilly version of "Walk Tall" continues to be the highlight of the set for me, along with "Deep Blue Heart" and "The Real Life." "Death Letter" also sounds great live. John sings it with a lot of passion. I also really like the acoustic version of "Jackie Brown" and the barroom brawl story in "Easter Eve" really comes across well live and keeps the fans interested. John does a fantastic job of delivering it in a fashion so that everyone, whether they've heard the song before or not, hangs on every verse.  

John is consistently playing for over two hours and delivering 24 songs, which is the same length and same number of songs he did during his heyday on the Scarecrow, Lonesome Jubilee and Whenever We Wanted tours. On those tours he took a 15-20 minute intermission halfway through the set, and this time he's playing straight through. Throw in the fantastic movie that opens each show and you could make a strong case that this is the best Mellencamp tour ever. It's heavy on album tracks (even if most are from recent albums instead of classic albums) and moderate on hits, and many of those that are played are completely rearranged. In short, the St. Louis show was fantastic, the Fabulous Fox is as good a venue to see a show as there is in the United States, and if you aren't planning to see this tour before it ends in late April, change your plans ASAP. You can't miss this show. Yes, the tickets are expensive, but the No Better Than This tour is worth every penny.


Authority Song
No One Cares About Me
Deep Blue Heart
Death Letter
Walk Tall
The West End
Check It Out
Save Some Time To Dream (solo, acoustic)
Cherry Bomb (a capella)
Don’t Need This Body
Right Behind Me
Jackie Brown (acoustic with Mirium on violin)
Longest Days (John and Andy)
Easter Eve
Jack and Diane
Small Town (solo, acoustic)
Troye and Mirium's Hymn
Rain on the Scarecrow
Paper and Fire
The Real Life
Human Wheels
If I Die Sudden
No Better Than This
Pink Houses
R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.

Below are some pictures from the St. Louis show:

840  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Kansas City, MO / KC Review on: November 06, 2010, 11:25:02 am
Review | John Mellencamp at the Midland


Special to The Star

Friday night’s sold-out John Mellencamp show at the Midland Theater was the tale of two concerts.

For the first 90 minutes, Mellencamp used his vast songbook to explore the nooks and crannies of American music. Opener “Authority Song” was stripped of its big country riff and rode bare bones on the spare bass and drum line. Later in the show, “Jack and Diane” was given the same treatment, with Miriam Strum’s violin shouldering the melody.

“No One Cares About Me” resembled prime-era Johnny Cash with a boom-chicka rhythm section and guitarist Andy York doing his best Carl Perkins impression. “Deep Blue Heart” sounded like an outtake from Bob Dylan’s “Time Out Of Mind.”

While there weren’t any jump-to-your-feet, hands-in-the-air climaxes during this part, there were a few goose bump-inducing moments. The smallest moments were the biggest, like Mellencamp’s poignant solo, acoustic delivery of “Jackie Brown,” where he was joined by Strum at the end.

A subdued “Check It Out” had the wistful air of someone watching their grandchildren play in the yard. Later, the entire theater clapped and sang along as Mellencamp sang “Cherry Bomb” without his band or his guitar.

It was clear, however, that the crowd wasn’t expecting a low-key evening. The chatter from the bar downstairs floated into the balcony during the quiet “Longest Days.” Story/songs “Right Behind Me” and “Easter Eve” lacked a traditional chorus and struggled to captivate the crowd.

After the beautiful violin/accordion duet of “New Hymn,” the full drum kit that had been tantalizing the crowd all night was finally put to use. Starting with the heartland hymn “Rain on the Scarecrow,” Mellencamp and his six-piece backing band cut loose and delivered 30 minutes of the expected energetic sing-alongs. With each song, the band raised the volume and dropped formality. Singles like “Pink Houses” drew the biggest responses, while the band seemed to relish trotting out album cuts “The Real Life” and “No Better Than This.”

In a way, Mellencamp served as his own opening act. As the audience found their seats an hour-long documentary played. The film showed Mellencamp on tour and as he recorded his latest album at Sun Studios in Memphis, the San Antonio hotel room where Robert Johnson once recorded, and First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga.

Mellencamp recorded the album using a single microphone to capture the entire band in one take. The approach may puzzle some fans, but it’s clear from the first half of the night that his songwriting chops are as strong as ever. The struggle will be to win fans over to new arrangements and sounds that don’t resemble the long-loved radio hits.

After a little more than two hours, the house lights were up, and Mellencamp was safely shuttled to his Airstream trailer parked behind the building. A large portion of the crowd lingered, whistling and clapping in vain as the stage was cleared. The evening wasn’t a complete success, but it was enough to leave them wanting more.

Setlist: Authority Song; No One Cares About Me; Deep Blue Heart; Death Letter; Walk Tall; The West End; Check It Out; Save Some Time To Dream (solo, acoustic); Cherry Bomb (a capella); Don’t Need This Body; Right Behind Me; Jackie Brown (solo, acoustic); Longest Days; Easter Eve; Jack and Diane; Small Town (solo, acoustic); New Hymn; Rain on the Scarecrow; Paper and Fire; The Real Life; Human Wheels; If I Die Sudden; No Better Than This; Pink Houses; R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.
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