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31  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / Ohio Magazine Rock Hall Exhibit Feature on: January 27, 2017, 12:07:05 am
Making Mellencamp
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame delves into how would-be teen idol Johnny Cougar reclaimed his name and became the musical poet of the Midwest.


John Mellencamp’s silver 1965 Honda motorcycle is parked at the entrance to the exhibit space under a black-and-white portrait of the musician leaning against a wire fence — an image fans will instantly recognize as the photograph from the cover of his five-time-platinum album “Scarecrow.”

The bike looks well maintained, almost new, which makes it all the more surprising to learn from the accompanying placard that Mellencamp has had it since high school. That fact is listed just above a quote from the musician: “As long as I had a guitar, some food, a motorcycle and some beautiful arms to fall into ... that’s all I ever wanted.”

“Mellencamp,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s newest exhibition, traces the artist’s evolution from would-be teen idol to heartland rocker to socially conscious co-founder of Farm Aid. It features more than 100 of Mellencamp’s personal items, ranging from guitars to handwritten lyrics to a selection of the vibrant paintings that have become another creative outlet for him over the the past three decades.

Mellencamp’s 2008 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be reason enough for a career retrospective, but Karen Herman, the Rock Hall’s vice president of curatorial affairs, says it seemed especially appropriate now given how relatable so many of the themes in his music are today.

“Particularly with what’s going on economically in this country and people feeling a bit dispossessed,” she says. “That’s where John Mellencamp comes from and what he writes about.”

Organized around the evolution of the musician’s name, the exhibition begins with the one he was given at birth: Slate Mellencamp. Born with spina bifida, he had to undergo an experimental surgery as a baby that saved his life.

Afterward, his parents renamed him John J. Mellencamp, and he grew up in the farm town of Seymour, Indiana, with four siblings and a creative mother who painted in her free time. Rock ’n’ roll consumed him starting in his early teens, and in 1973, he traveled to New York City to work with Tony DeFries, the pop-music manager who helped David Bowie achieve fame. But the opportunity didn’t come without complications, particularly the requirement that Mellencamp change his name.

“When he finally makes it, when he finally gets that break and goes to New York, what’s the first thing they do to him when he signs? They tell him, your name isn’t John Mellencamp. It’s Johnny Cougar,” says Herman. “He was fighting that name for the rest of his career — even now.”

Like the Rock Hall’s previous exhibitions on Paul Simon and Graham Nash, “Mellencamp” is presented in a portion of the Ahmet M. Ertegun Main Exhibition Hall that seems particularly suited for a single-artist focus. Listening stations throughout the space allow guests to hear from Mellencamp in his own words — part of a wide-ranging interview he did with the Rock Hall to illuminate and give dimension to the pieces on display.

“I got a very strong sense that he’s a fighter, he’s a rebel, he’s not going to let anybody tell him what to do,” Herman says of the conversations she’s had with Mellencamp. “He’s his own person, and he’s very complex.”

The years between 1982 and 1987 marked a time of personal growth and artistic evolution for the musician, and the exhibition gives appropriate attention to “American Fool,” “Uh-Huh,” “Scarecrow” and “The Lonesome Jubilee” — an era that saw Mellencamp reclaim his surname and produce some of the most important music of his career.
The typewritten first draft of the lyrics to “Small Town,” arguably the song he is most identified with, are displayed alongside a handwritten second version. The original studio chart from the recording of Mellencamp’s 1982 No. 1 single “Jack & Diane” rests inside a case highlighting “American Fool,” along with a black electric guitar from that time. (A close look reveals the word “Cougar” once written across the front of the instrument has since been scratched away.)

Sometimes an item, such as a test pressing of Mellencamp’s 1987 single “Cherry Bomb,” offers a window into the culture of the time through Mellencamp’s own recollections. When the video for the song, which featured a black man dancing with a white woman, prompted a threatening letter, he made an appeal: “I went to my friends at MTV, said you’ve gotta play this thing more. You’ve got to break this race barrier. That was really the accomplishment of ‘Cherry Bomb.’ ”

By that time, Mellencamp had already cemented himself not only as a rock star, but a voice for the Midwest. His 1985 album “Scarecrow” addressed failing family farms and fading dreams. Much like Woody Guthrie captured the plight of the Dust Bowl era, Mellencamp was writing his own chapter.

“John Steinbeck is a huge influence on him, Tennessee Williams — these people who had that mentality of looking beyond themselves and looking at the greater world and seeing all the inequality,” says Herman. “That really resonated with him as he grew intellectually and started to think about how you do that in songwriting.

“For him, it was making the songs very simple, almost minimalist, to tell those stories. ... I think he’s really on the same pathway as some of the writers of great literature.”

It was around this time that Mellencamp teamed with Willie Nelson and Neil Young to create Farm Aid — an annual concert and year-round crusade to raise money to help family farmers throughout the United States. A display case in the exhibition features photographs from the annual concert as well as a Neil Young guitar Mellencamp won in an arm-wrestling match.

Sprinkled throughout the music memorabilia are paintings, which become more plentiful the deeper one travels into the exhibition and the timeline of Mellencamp’s career. Herman says visual art is where the musician focuses much of his creative energy these days, although he still records and tours. His 22nd album, “Plain Spoken,” was released in 2014.

“That’s where his life is right now,” says Herman. “If you said ‘what are you?’ I think he’d say ‘I’m a painter’ before he’d say ‘I’m a musician’ or ‘I’m a songwriter.’ ”

Mellencamp’s canvases burst with vibrancy, awash in bold colors and strokes. One large canvas of a guitar-playing man serves as a self-portrait, while another casts actresses and friends Meg Ryan and Laura Dern as 1930s-era clowns.

One of the most striking works on display, titled “Gates of Hell” and painted during Mellencamp’s 1992 divorce, depicts a couple standing side by side with two snarling dogs — a piece that art writer Hilarie M. Sheets compared to Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” The work is dark and edgy, and, much like Mellencamp’s music, it radiates with energy.

“Deep down he is a storyteller,” Herman says, “and if you look at those paintings, it’s a story. You really learn something about who’s in there, or you learn something about the person who painted it.”

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
1100 E. Ninth St., Cleveland 44114, 216/781-7625,
Hours: Mon., Tues., Thur.-–Sun. 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Wed. 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Admission: Adults $23.50, seniors (65+ with I.D.) $21.25, children ages 9-12 $13.75, children 8 and under free with purchase of adult admission
32  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / All About John / Lyrics to John's New Song "Easy Target" on: January 14, 2017, 11:28:13 am
While scrolling through Facebook this morning I was excited to see that Tavis Smiley shared the lyrics to John's new song "Easy Target" on his Facebook page: This song is sure to generate lots of attention. Great to see that John is still this vibrant of a songwriter 40 years into his career. Love it.

33  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Belated Sioux Falls Review on: November 22, 2016, 09:42:04 pm
Older Mellencamp brings audience back to youth
By John Papendick Aberdeen

At 65, John Mellencamp still is fighting authority.

This time, the Midwestern singer seems to be winning unlike his lyrics “I fight authority and authority always wins.”

Most older touring rock stars, who sing to us graying Baby Boomers the songs of our youth, charge hundreds of dollars for us to listen to their hits.

But Mellencamp is different. He is who he said he was in another of his hit songs: “Never wanted to be no pop singer, Never wanted to write no pop songs.”

Like the story he told of his aging grandmother who lived to be 100 but has since died. She was active until her last months.

Always called “Buddy” by his grandmother, he was by her side in bed one day when she wanted to pray. Deep into the prayer holding Buddy’s hand, grandmother said something like, “Me and Buddy are ready to meet you in heaven.”

Mellencamp interrupted his set Nov. 2 in Sioux Falls to jokingly tell his grandmother that he couldn’t go with her because he still had some sinning to do on earth. She said it was just like her Buddy to mess up a prayer.

She told him he eventually would learn that “life is short, even in its longest days.” Any songwriter would love to have relatives who give them the gift of words like those.

“I’m no day at the beach,” Mellencamp later would tell us. But then, who amongst us are?

Mellencamp has a lot of hits from which to choose. And he sang a number of them, mixed in with other selections from his wide-ranging category of songs along with some very cool jazz and blues.

Even when he went to his hits, his talented teammates who make up his band would do intros so you didn’t know the hits were coming. At least that was the case for me.

And it seemed like he changed up some of his chart-topping songs as well at the Mary W. Sommervold Hall of the Washington Pavilion.

That was different as well. It was fun to see a famous singer in an intimate, gorgeous setting of 2,000 fans rather than a huge, bland arena or mammoth, sterile outdoor stadium of tens of thousands.

In one night, most big acts who still can fill intimate settings, huge arenas or mammoth stadiums are trying to fit in all their hit songs the way their fans remember them. I love those kind of acts.

But on a night when the Chicago Cubs were winning Game 7 of the World Series (we still got to see the ninth and 10th innings), Mellencamp was winning over a group of his fellow Midwesterners.

It is something he has been doing his whole career, and in his own way. I’ve always seen Mellencamp as a bit of a rebel, and the rebellion continues.

Mellencamp couldn’t help but taking the paths less traveled in the small Indiana town where he grew up. It led him to helping, sticking up and singing out for the underdogs in life like farmers. Thus leading some adult fans wearing the FFA jackets of their youth to see him in Sioux Falls.

I would have worn mine, but it doesn’t fit anymore. Still, this night of my youth fit me just fine.
34  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / The Band / Kenny Aronoff Autobiography Article on: November 22, 2016, 01:36:15 am
Ex- Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff writes about 'Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll'
Musician revisits chart-topping era of John Mellencamp's band
By David Lindquist

In his new autobiography, "Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll," Kenny Aronoff pulls back the curtain on the dangers of being a Hoosier rock star in the 1980s.

Aronoff writes about the time John Mellencamp survived a motorcycle crash one week before the recording of breakthrough album "American Fool." Toby Myers, who played bass in Mellencamp's band from 1982 to 1998, lost a toe in a boating accident during an East Coast tour. In an episode that parallels music movie "Almost Famous," the entire Mellencamp entourage could have died when a charter plane lost power between Miami and Biloxi, Miss.

And everyone in the band was required to participate in a fall pastime known as the Mellencamp Football League. No pads, full contact, highly competitive.

But there's more than misadventure detailed in "Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll," which arrived in bookstores Nov. 15. Aronoff, the drummer in Mellencamp's band from 1980 to 1996, mostly writes about an unyielding mission to succeed.

"We weren’t the best rock ’n’ roll band in the world," Aronoff said in a phone interview. "We made ourselves great by hard work."

Mellencamp, who sold 16 million albums from 1982 to 1987, maintained regular rehearsal hours for the musicians: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., interrupted by a 5-7 p.m. break, five days a week when the band wasn't on tour.

Before the Seymour native renovated a Brown County house into Belmont Mall studio, Mellencamp worked at "The Bunker," a cramped, concrete room in rural Bloomington that once was a dog kennel.

Those were days, Aronoff said, when the musicians grasped for the secret of making hit records. They took a field trip to catch a date of Bruce Springsteen's "The River" tour. They studied Tom Petty's "Damn the Torpedoes" album for tips on arranging songs.

Mellencamp, known then as John Cougar, had written a song called "Jack & Diane." It wasn't working, however, as anything other than a stripped-down solo acoustic tune.

"We knew it was a cool song, but we didn’t know what to do with it," Aronoff said.

Working at Miami's Criteria Studios with producer Don Gehman, the Mellencamp crew heard the Bee Gees experimenting with an early drum machine, the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, in a nearby room.

Aronoff said Gehman borrowed the Linn "out of desperation" for a potential fix for "Jack & Diane."

"I was insulted," Aronoff said. "I grabbed the thing out of anger and said, 'At least I want to have control over this thing.' "

Aronoff programmed the hand-clap beat heard during the first half of the song, and he added the distinctive midsong solo on conventional drums. "Jack & Diane" reached No. 1 on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 chart in October 1982.

An Indiana University graduate who grew up in western Massachusetts, Aronoff has increased his musical stature since exiting Mellencamp's band 20 years ago.

He has toured with John Fogerty, Melissa Etheridge and the Smashing Pumpkins. Aronoff played drums on studio recordings by dozens of acts, including Trey Anastasio, Kelly Clarkson, Tony Iommi and Brian Wilson.

Indianapolis producers Marc Johnson and Eric Klee Johnson, twin brothers who own Pop Machine studio, have hired Aronoff for multiple recording sessions.

“He makes any project he’s involved with a lot better,” Marc Johnson said. “He brings an energy and a positivity that just enhances everybody’s attitude and performance in the room, like no other person I’ve ever been in the room with.”

“You also have a feeling that what you’re doing has weight and importance,” Eric Klee Johnson said. “You feel like you’re embarking on something special with him there. We learn so much from him. It’s like having another record producer on the project.”

Aronoff said writing "Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll" ranks as "one of the most challenging experiences of my life.”

Working with author Jake Brown, Aronoff said he dedicated 14-hour days to the book. To piece together his story, the 63-year-old relied on daily planners he had saved since 1977.

"I notated everything I had to do with the music business, and some personal life," Aronoff said. "So there it was. It was all laid out in front of me."

"Sex, Drums, Rock 'n' Roll" features new interviews with Mellencamp, Fogerty, Etheridge, Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Corgan. The book's unofficial mantra is "I hate taking days off."

"I focused on what it takes to be successful at anything in life," Aronoff said. "What it takes to be successful and stay successful."

Executives at Backbeat Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard, told Aronoff he shared too much wisdom in the book's first draft.

"The book came in at 600 pages," Aronoff said. "They said the magic number is 300 pages."

He agreed to edit aggressively but insisted his detailed discography be included at the end of the book.

The list of recordings, Aronoff said, tells its own story of years when his schedule was a whirlwind of Nashville, Tenn. Los Angeles and New York on consecutive days and constant repeat.

"No one else will ever have a discography like this in our lifetime," Aronoff said. "The music budgets have changed. There was so much money that people could afford to fly me anywhere, any time for one song."

Today, Aronoff does most of his recording at his Uncommon Studios in Los Angeles. He plays live dates with the BoDeans and Supersonic Blues Machine.

In December, Aronoff will accompany Neil Diamond during an appearance on "The Late Late Show with James Corden." And Aronoff continues his recording and touring work with Fogerty, founder of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

If Aronoff's book depicts Mellencamp as a restless seeker of sounds, Fogerty comes across as a relentless perfectionist.

Known as a vocalist-guitarist, Fogerty practiced the drums four hours a day for 10 years. He routinely oversees concert sound checks that last longer than the actual performances.

When Aronoff began working with Fogerty in the mid-1990s, the man who wrote "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising" and "Down on the Corner" insisted on tuning Aronoff's snare and preparing a blanket to muffle the kick drum.

"John Fogerty was my tech," Aronoff said.

As the recording of a single song stretched on for days, both Fogerty and Aronoff found room for improvement that invariably led to another take.

“I think I remember him smiling with a look of, ‘Oh, yeah, I can work with this guy,’ " Aronoff said. "I was just being me, and he was just being him."

In a chapter titled "Mellencamp — The End," Aronoff writes about his departure from the job that accompanied hit singles such as "Hurts So Good," "Pink Houses," "Authority Song" and "Paper in Fire."

In short, Aronoff became too in-demand as a session musician, a gig that came to be when Mellencamp focused on painting rather than music between the recording of 1989 album "Big Daddy" and 1991's "Whenever We Wanted."

By the mid-'90s, Aronoff's recording credits included work with Stevie Nicks, Shawn Colvin, Lyle Lovett, Bob Seger and Meat Loaf.

Ultimately, Aronoff said he chose to break away from Mellencamp's organization.

"That was a very heavy thing," Aronoff said. "It was like a divorce. I felt like those songs were my songs. Those beats were my beats. Those guys were my best friends. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, at all."
35  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / 2013 Art Interview on: November 19, 2016, 01:13:05 pm
The Robb Reader: John Mellencamp
Cynthia Elyce Rubin
December 1, 2013

John Mellencamp made his name in music with gritty rock songs—“Jack & Diane,” “Pink Houses,” “Small Town”—that charted the joys and struggles of ordinary Americans. Born in Seymour, Ind., a descendant of German farmers, Mellencamp has remained true to his heartland roots throughout his 26-album career. In 1985, he and fellow musicians Neil Young and Willie Nelson founded the nonprofit Farm Aid, which, driven by its annual benefit concerts, has raised more than $40 million for family farms over the years. The 61-year-old Mellencamp continues to write and perform, and he recently collaborated with author Stephen King on a musical, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which opened in Atlanta in April. That same month, the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville debuted Nothing Like I Planned, the first museum retrospective of the rock star’s oil paintings. The multitalented Mellencamp, however, takes his widespread success in stride, always returning from his tours, exhibits, and other extravaganzas to his home near the same small town in Indiana where he grew up. —Cynthia Elyce Rubin

You are an artist, but do you collect art?
I have a very diverse collection. I’ve always been interested in portraiture, so I looked at Rembrandt. That led me to Impressionism, which I didn’t have much of a feeling for. Then I went to German painting, which has stayed with me and remains the basic foundation for what I do. Early on I bought a Max Beckmann. Matter of fact, I’ve had it so long, I can’t remember its name, but it’s a portrait of two women. I have a Chaim Soutine entitled Man with Straw Hat. There are Jack Levines. I also have works by Sam Doyle, an African-American born on St. Helena Island near Beaufort, South Carolina, whose paintings on corrugated tin reflect the culture and traditions of Southern island life. His paintings are simple, colorful, and strong. And I love faces, so I have hundreds of faces looking at me. I counted about 782 one day—paintings, sculptures, and dolls.

Any other passions?
I’m very into interior design. When I travel, I buy what I like. My home is filled with paintings and objects from any and all periods. Modern to antique and zany folk art—it’s all there. I look at what I call the “math,” or rhythm, of the room. The furniture: Is it in alignment or off-center? You design the room for what you think looks good, but you’re really doing a math problem. I look at everything that way. In a song, there are so many beats per measure, so many measures in a verse.

Tell us about your motorcycles.
I have about 25 motorcycles. Some are pieces of art. The one I enjoy the most is a custom, handmade Exile Cycle made by Russell Mitchell in Los Angeles. He’s from England, wears a spiky Mohawk, and makes the coolest bikes on the planet—low-slung, not mean but no-nonsense, clean and tough European styling. It has the speed, design, handling, and just all of it. I enjoy driving it on Indiana’s back roads.

Where do you go on vacation?
I don’t take vacations. I’m working all the time, whether it’s thinking up some song lyrics or painting. I travel so much that I’m just happy to be home, whether it’s in Indiana—at my main home outside Bloomington, near Seymour, where I grew up and my father still lives—or at my home on Daufuskie Island, a sea island between Savannah, Georgia, and Hilton Head, South Carolina. It’s a very special place, home to native islanders with their own culture and language called Gullah, descendants of black slaves from West Africa. Only 250 people live on the island, so it’s very quiet there. I have a small studio, but I don’t paint much. I like to hang out.
36  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / JM Rock Hall of Fame Exhibit Photos and Article on: November 10, 2016, 12:17:10 am
'Mellencamp': Gripping exhibit captures Rock & Roll Hall of Fame heartland rocker
By Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio – John Mellencamp's exhibition opening Thursday is not part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's "Louder Than Words: Rock, Power & Politics.''

But perhaps not in the 20-year history of the museum has there been a more appropriate display to open within two days of Donald Trump's historic – and for some, shattering – victory in the presidential race.

More than 2,000 square feet of space featuring in excess of 100 items pay homage to the man who chose – after deciding to abandon the "Johnny Cougar'' name foisted on him by manager Tom DiFries – to pave his own road.

And in so doing, the infant who survived an operation to correct his life-threatening spina bifida birth defect became the jongleur of the Heartland. As author John Steinbeck's son Thomas said in a speech when Mellencamp was named the 2012 Steinbeck Award winner:

"He has spent his life serving as a voice for the people.''

He did so by following his own path, one that the exhibit curated by the museum's Karen Herman, vice president of collections and curatorial affairs, perfectly chronicles from his birth in rural Seymour, Indiana, in 1951, to the present day.

As usual with exhibitions under Herman's hand, this one is heavy on interaction, including iPads that let visitors hear descriptions of the various artifacts, stunning and in-depth interviews with Mellencamp, and, of course, the music that put him in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2008.

But as those digital tricks and trades are the new gimmicks at the Rock Hall – and obviously designed to draw in younger fans – it's the "things'' here that put on display the reality that the notoriously reticent Mellencamp is so much more than a singer-songwriter.

Foremost among them are six massive paintings – in one of the accompanying signs, Mellencamp noted that he considers himself a visual artist first, as inspired by his painter-mother. He says he grew up around the smells of oil paint and canvas.

The images are as stark as his songs, with little wasted color, and created with sparse but bold brush strokes that are just as haunting as his lyrics. A painting called "The Stardust Sisters'' shows his former girlfriend, Meg Ryan, and her best friend, fellow actress Laura Dern, as 1930s clowns. They're not the funny Ringling Bros. clowns of childhood, nor are they the Emmett Kelly sad tramps that make us smile through tears. No, they're clowns as a German Expressionist might have painted them, dark and infinitely more frightening than Stephen King's "It'' clowns.

An equally gloomy and massive painting called "The Gates of Hell'' has been compared to Grant Wood's iconic "American Gothic,'' but this is no simple image of a farmer and his wife. No, this is a pair of satanic figures and the dogs that legendarily guard the entry to Hades, and is described as "a brutal allegory for emotional torture,'' triggered as it was by a bitter divorce he was going through when he created it in 1992.

Perhaps most frightening – and disconcerting – is a painting called simply "Martin Luther King.'' It channels graffiti street art, but the image of King, which really looks nothing like him, is shocking: wild eyes staring in dismay, and a mouth that seems to sob in sorrow. The words emblazoned across the portrait tell why: "Martin Luther King had a dream / And this ain't it.''

The exhibit has the usual "things'' fare – a favorite is a hand-written set list from the late Plain Dealer rock critic Jane Scott of his 1985 concert at Richfield taken from her reporter's notebook. Too, there are his first motorcycle, guitars, his first royalty check ($27.59, dated Dec. 16, 1977), hand-written lyrics for "Jack & Diane'' and "Small Town'' (complete with a misspelled "And that's where they'll probably berry me'' that gives credence to a second-grade report card noting his troubles with spelling), posters and a Neil Young guitar from the first Farm Aid.

The magazine covers, the famous leather jacket, the press kits, even a pair of shoes show the items, the tangibles, that are Mellencamp.

But it's the paintings, including a harrowing self-portrait from 1991 called "Under the Light,'' that capture the psyche of John Mellencamp, an iconoclastic creator determined to do things his way, or not do them at all.

And that is the triumph of this exhibit.

Exhibit Photo Gallery

John's 1966 Silver Honda Scrambler 305 motorcycle

Song list from John's Scarecrow Tour concert at the Richfield Coliseum in Cleveland in late 1985. This is believed to be from former Plain Dealer rock critic Jane Scott.

John's painting titled "Under the Lights."

John's painting titled "Twelve Dreams."

Covers of magazines John has appeared on.

John's archives from the American Fool era.

"I Need a Lover" era memorabilia.

John's painting titled "Martin Luther King."

John's painting titled "Stardust Sisters."

John's recording sessions and tape cases.
37  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Grand Forks Review on: November 09, 2016, 01:48:57 am
“Wild Night” at the Fritz
Dakota Student
Stephanie Hollman, Staff Writer
November 8, 2016

On Friday night, the Chester Fritz Auditorium was packed to its capacity with a crowd anxiously waiting for Grammy-Award winning musician John Mellencamp, on the last show of his 15-show Plain Spoken Tour featuring Americana singer Carlene Carter.

As the opening act, Carter not only entertained with her musical talent, but also managed to tug at the heartstrings of the audience with personal anecdotes about her memories that added to the depth of her performance. This made the fully packed, 2,400 seat auditorium feel more like a small, intimate performance rather than a generic concert at a huge venue.

Almost every song of the night was dedicated to someone. She paid a touching tribute to her late mother, June Carter Cash, with “Lonesome Valley 2003,” which is dedicated to the men and women serving in the armed forces. Carter personally showed her appreciation for the audience before singing a few more hits, including the fan-favorite hit, “Every Little Thing.”

The audience supported the musician with standing ovations and rounds of applause when she opened up about some of hardest times of her life due to the deaths of her mother, stepfather and younger sister. Her endurance through these tough times led to her appropriately titled album “Stronger.”

Despite her illustrious musical career and reputation as a country music idol, Carter’s performance was raw, entertaining and personal. She even spent intermission at her merchandise table, not to pilfer sales for CDs and t shirts, but to get to know her audience, take pictures and have one-on-one conversations with the singer about her music.

Carter and her thoroughly entertaining opening act was the perfect setup for John Mellencamp’s final performance. Following a brief 15-minute intermission, Mellencamp strutted onstage to his hit “Lawless Times,” with his signature confidence and his charismatic six-man band.

“Some songs you know, some songs you don’t know, some you can dance to, and some you can sing along to.”

And that, he did. During his entire performance, Mellencamp kept the audience either dancing with each other on their feet or belting their hearts out along to his infectious lyrics. The entire auditorium was electric with energy and went wild when Mellencamp sang his more famous songs, especially “Jack and Diane.”

Though his 20-song lineup was packed with rock-and-roll entertainment, Mellencamp also displayed his award-winning talents as a lyricist with the slower songs that were clearly fan favorites, as he had everyone in the audience holding hands and singing along to “Small Town” and “Longest Days.”
Carter returned onstage mid-show to join Mellencamp in singing “Indigo Sunset” and “My Soul’s Got Wings,” which was delivered so well by the two artists. The marriage of Carter’s bluesy voice and Mellencamp’s more signature rock stylings blended together perfectly, and it couldn’t have been better performed by the entire crowd.

Their performance was a preview of the album that the two are scheduled to release in 2017, and it promises nothing but pure enjoyment for the listener and pure artistic expression from the artists—nothing that the duo is short of, as proved by their final concert of the Plain Spoken Tour.
38  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / John Mellencamp: Hero to Midwest '80s kids on: November 02, 2016, 08:47:04 pm
John Mellencamp: Hero to Midwest '80s kids
By Matt Zimmer

It’s never been cool to be a fan of John Mellencamp. The man himself has often said so.

And in the year 2016 that’s probably true. Though the artist formerly known as Johnny Cougar has seen his platinum-selling 80s records age well, he’s still the same guy who annoyed much of America with that ‘This is Our Country’ song that ruled the airwaves during NFL games nearly a decade ago. He’s continued making albums every three or four years or so, but nowadays they’re largely ignored by all but his diehard fans.

If you go back about 30 years, though, nobody was cooler to a humble white kid from the Midwest than John Cougar Mellencamp.

I remember watching the video to ‘Paper in Fire’, one of the hits from his 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee, where a shaggy-haired, tank-top-wearing Mellencamp jammed with his band outside a front porch with a group of dancing country black folks and thinking he was the coolest guy I’d ever seen. You know that scene in the ‘Pink Houses’ video where Mellencamp does jump kicks in a corn field? Yeah, I’ve done that.

Mellencamp was one of the biggest stars of MTV’s golden era, and most every one of his videos felt like a scene from my life. Small Town, Pink Houses, Rain on the Scarecrow, Check it Out – these songs were almost dangerously familiar to someone who grew up or spent time in the rural Midwest. The photos in his album’s liner notes of Mellencamp bellied up to the bar in a diner making small-talk with old-timers looked like what I saw every time I visited my grandparents in Lake Benton, Minn.

As a lyricist, Mellencamp’s reach has always slightly exceeded his grasp– even his best songs can be a tad trite and cliché at times. But they’re definitely authentic.

Much of today’s top 40 country music is a watered down version of what Mellencamp was doing with much more heart and far less contempt in the mid-80s. Songs about farms, drive-in movies, high school sweethearts and “getting too drunk on Saturday and playing football with the kids on Sundays”.

Luke Bryan sings inferior versions of songs like that because he knows it will make him rich. Mellencamp wrote those songs because he lived them. He cared about the people in his songs, because he was one of them. I always found it comforting that someone who I admired so much validated even the most mundane of my life’s experiences in his songs the way Mellencamp did.

He’s also just a great singer, and his original band of Mike Wanchic, Larry Crane, Kenny Aronoff, Toby Myers and Lisa Germano was one of the best rock bands of the 80s.

One night when I was in college (shortly after I had turned 21) I was at McRudy’s bar in St. Cloud on what turned out to be a karaoke night. I had never sung a note in public and certainly had no intention to, but after a few Budweisers I found myself on stage, where I belted out ‘Hurts So Good’ and ‘Jack and Diane’ back-to-back. Most of my friends were there, and they assured me I was outstanding, that I should be in a band.

I knew then as well as I know now that this was not true, but damn near every week the rest of that year we went to McRudy’s on karaoke night and I got up and sang a few Mellencamp songs.

One morning I was nursing a hangover in my kinesiology class when a kid next to me nudged me and whispered, ‘Aren’t you the guy who sings Mellencamp at McRudy’s?’

I recommitted myself to my studies that day.

There have been a few instances since then in which I’ve been pressured up on a stage to relive my karaoke days, but I try to avoid them at all costs. In part because I’m too old and too sober to make a fool of myself as easily as I would 15 years ago, but also because deep down, I really love those songs, and I don’t want to ruin them.

I saw Mellencamp when he last came to Sioux Falls, in 1999. That was at the Arena. It was a fine show as far as arena concerts go. He played all the hits, the band sounded good, etc. But the show he’ll play Wednesday at the Pavilion figures to be a more intimate one, and that seems appropriate. I don’t want to see a 65-year-old Mellencamp get up on an Arena stage and try to relive the old days. Though he’s not the same cultural figure he was 20 or 30 years ago, Mellencamp is still someone who resonates with millions of Americans, and he and his music have aged gracefully. His appearance on the Late Show during David Letterman’s final week was genuinely funny and moving, and it reminded me of how impactful Mellencamp’s best songs really are.

It still isn’t cool to be a fan of John Mellencamp, and maybe it never will be. But I’ll always love those songs. They’re the soundtrack of my life.
39  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Lincoln Review on: November 02, 2016, 12:34:45 am
John Mellencamp and his band deliver fine Lied Center show

John Mellencamp stood at the microphone at the center of the Lied Center stage, holding an acoustic guitar and talking about the song he was going to play next.

“I wrote this song when I was a child,” he said. “This is like singing ‘Jingle Bells’ to me. The only reason I play this song is I know you guys want to hear it. And I know what I was doing the night I wrote this. It’s lucky it got written at all.”

Then he launched into “Jack and Diane,” his first hit, and brilliantly turned it into a sing-along that felt like it was written to be sung by a crowd.

That was among the peaks of a fine, road-tight show delivered by Mellencamp and his superb five-piece band.

It opened with “Lawless Times” and “Troubled Man,” a pair of songs from “Plain Spoken,” the album that gives the tour its name, then moved into an elongated version of “Minutes to Memories,” one of Mellencamp’s best songs even though it was never a single.

Showcasing his writing via arrangements like that of a quiet “Small Town,” the show was perfectly paced and effectively produced with simple, but dramatic lighting and performances that were well-fitted to the performing arts center environs.

“Jack and Diane” came midway through Tuesday’s 20-song, 110-minute show and midway through a short acoustic set that began with Mellencamp and Andy York on guitars as he sang a moving “Longest Days.”

Following the hit, Mellencamp channeled Tom Waits, delivering a gravelly-voiced take on “The Full Catastrophe” against Troye Kinnett’s bluesy piano.

Opener Carlene Carter joined Mellencamp on stage, the pair holding hands as they sang “Indigo Sunset” then going for hand-clapping gospel on “My Soul’s Got Wings,” lyrics by Woody Guthrie -- a pair of songs from the album the duo will release in February.

After an instrumental “Overture” made up of passages from about a dozen Mellencamp songs of the ‘80s and ‘90s stunningly played by Kinnett on accordion and violinist Miriam Sturm, the band, which performed in black suits, returned sans ties and a full-blown rock ‘n’ roll show broke.

It started with a rumbling “Rain on the Scarecrow,” then a haunting echoey “Paper in Fire,” “Crumblin’ Down” and a raucous “The Authority Song,” that was part sing-along, part drum solo and part medley with “Land of a Thousand Dances.”

Mike Wanchic’s indelible guitar riff signaled the start of “Pink Houses,” with more singing. Then after a spoken riff on old times, Mellencamp and the band tore through the rockin’ soul of “Cherry Bomb” to end the night. No encore necessary, thank you.

Carter opened the evening with a wonderful short set during which she played a couple of her hits, including a rockin’ take on “Every Little Thing,” told some very funny stories about herself and her famous family, did a couple Carter Family numbers and her own “Me and the Wildwood Rose,” a tribute to her grandmother, "Mother" Maybelle Carter.

“The Plain Spoken Tour” has just two more dates this week. Then Mellencamp’s two-year-long concert hall sojourn comes to an end. It couldn’t have been better performed, or received than it was at the Lied Center Tuesday.
40  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Ames Review and Photos on: October 31, 2016, 11:21:25 pm
John Mellencamp parades 40 years of hits at Ames show
By Matthew Leimkuehler

The opening line in John Mellencamp’s 1989 number “Pop Singer” boasts the line: “Never wanted to be no pop singer.”

And, in 2016, that sentiment still holds true with Mellencamp’s career-spanning rock ‘n’ roll live show. The singer-songwriting troubadour from Indiana performed to a nearly packed house of thousands who flocked to Stephens Auditorium in Ames to spend a night with the now 65-year-old icon.

Part of the “Plain Spoken” tour in support of his 2014 release of the same name, the show opened with back-to-back numbers from the record, “Lawless Times” and “Troubled Man.” He didn’t leave fans waiting for familiar tracks for long, diving into 1985 mega-hit “Small Town” third.

The romance of the song — off the acclaimed “Scarecrow” record — hit home with onlookers, who pumped fists and chanted loudly as each line ended with the words "small town." More than 30 years after the Farm Aid co-founder originally released it, small town pride still shines bright when Iowans hear the track.

The set continued to weave old and new as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member and his band — dressed to the nines — took the audience on a journey through his 40-year career. Tracks like 1983’s “Pink Houses,” “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song” kept the crowd alive during the back-end of the set, while newer numbers such as 2014’s “Isolation of Mister," an acoustic rendition of 2008’s “Longest Days” and vaudevillian 1996 track "The Full Catastrophe" filled out the performance.

Mellencamp used his charm, idolized by women and envied by men, to chat with the crowd before a few of the night’s songs. The most poignant of these moments came during an acoustic rendition of “Jack & Diane,” which came at Mellencamp’s midway point on stage.

“Now this next song,” Mellencamp, who wore a suit jacket and black jeans for most of the show, said. “I don’t even know why I play it anymore. I think I play it because I know you want to hear it.”

The song’s opening chords were met with jovial approval — so much approval that the crowd wanted to burst into the song’s chorus early. The “Oh yeah, life goes on,” section comes after the second verse and Mellencamp reminded the crowd of this by stopping completely in the middle of the track.

“If we’re going to do this ... let’s at least do it in order,” he said during the pause.

The show faltered most in its length. Mellencamp performed a quick 90 minutes — with no encore — for fans, some of which paid more than $100 to get into the show. He and his band tore through 17 numbers across the singer’s 22 album discography during the performance. With less than a handful of shows left on the nearly two-year tour, it felt like a sprint — instead of a long run — through his years of work.

Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, opened the show with 45 minutes and 10 songs of her southern charm. She spoke in length before each number, telling stories of growing up in country music’s famed Carter family. She mixed the set with Carter family covers and original numbers from her 2014 record, "Carter Girl."

She gave a quick nod to Iowa, where her first fan club started in 1985, before performing her closing number.

“You really blessed my heart, being from Iowa, y'all,” she said.

Mellencamp closed with 1987 hit “Cherry Bomb,” bringing the crowd together for one final sing-along.

“Thank you very much … goodnight,” he told the audience, bowing alongside his band.

41  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Richmond Review and Photos on: October 27, 2016, 11:43:23 pm
John Mellencamp brings hits, curiosities, some irony to EKU Center
Contributing Music Writer

“Watch out for the creepers,” sang John Mellencamp last night at the onset of an efficient and entertaining performance at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. The bemused warning, part of a hapless blast of modern day paranoia and mistrust called “Lawless Times,” signaled business as usual for the Indiana rocker. His singing voice may have changed a bit with a coarser delivery that was likely the by-product of age and tobacco. But the creakiness, along with the loose, roots-driven sound of an expert band, kept the hard times from hitting too close to home. In fact, Mellencamp made himself one of the tune’s unwitting victims. “If you want to steal this song,” he sang, “it can easily be loaded down.”

The program evolved into an appealing mix of songs new and old, familiar and obscure. “Lawless Times” was one of three tunes offered from Mellencamp’s 2014 album “Plain Spoken,” a record that colored the Americana-savvy narratives that have long been trademarks of his finer compositions with a leaner, blues-leaning sound. The highlight of the trio was “The Isolation of Mister,” a personal requiem where regret and loneliness are measured by a pervasive sense of loss. “I thought happiness was a transgression,” Mellencamp sang with stoic solemnity. “I just took it as it came.”

There were also instances where the blues attitude won out, as in a version of the Robert Johnson classic “Stones in My Passway” (cut for Mellencamp’s 2003 covers album “Trouble No More”) that whittled singer and band down to a lean quartet. Curiously, as the economical roots music charge intensified, the vocals took on a near James Brown-level fervency.

The hit parade, of course, was what electrified the crowd. Patrons listened patiently as the more ragged extremes of Mellencamp’s singing triggered the very Tom Waits-like turns of “The Full Catastrophe” (a deep cut from 1996’s “Mr. Happy Go Lucky” album). But when a highly electric “Rain on the Scarecrow” revealed the full might of the band or when Mellencamp took on a solo acoustic reworking of “Jack and Diane,” the audience erupted.

The latter was performed with almost apologetic candor. “The only reason I still play this is because I know you guys want to hear it.” Playing is about all he did. Mellencamp sang a lead-in verse or two, but largely let the audience handle the vocal chores.

Some of the show’s older works have aged better than others. “Pop Singer” just needs to be jettisoned. It wasn’t that strong of a single when it hit radio in 1989. If there was any intended irony within the storyline (“Never wanted to be no pop singer”) it was lost years ago. If it was intended as something more matter-of-fact, then some explaining of the ticket prices — which topped out at more than $200 — was in order. On the flip side, “Check It Out” remained every bit the effortless everyman anthem it was when the song was released in 1987, still bolstered by an Americana flair and a surprising lyrical hopefulness that have not dimmed.

The show-stealer, though, was another sleeper, “Longest Days.” The leadoff song from 2007’s T Bone Burnett-produced “Life, Death, Love and Freedom” album, it was introduced by a touching and quite humorous remembrance of Mellencamp’s late grandmother. The song itself was pure folk poetry written — and, curiously, sung — with the directness and simplicity of a John Prine chestnut.

As a bonus, the performance sported a 45 minute opening set by Carlene Carter. The singer’s career has shifted from post-punk pop (in the late 1970s and ’80s) to mainstream country (late ’80s and ’90s) to the roots-driven Americana of the Carter Family, of which she is a third generation member. While her stage persona was often the astonishing embodiment of her late mother, June Carter Cash, the unaccompanied set was an arresting blend of Carter Family faith (“The Storms are on the Ocean”), vintage originals reflecting a surprisingly deep vocal resonance (“Easy From Now On”) and learned folk expression (“Blackjack David”). She joined Mellencamp later it in the evening to preview tunes from a collaborative album due out next year. But it was on her own that Carter merged three distinct career chapters into a single, joyous set.

42  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Richmond Photos on: October 27, 2016, 07:53:13 am
John Mellencamp and his six-piece band performed in front of a sold out crowd Thursday at the EKU Center for the Arts.

The Indiana native played a 20-song set that spanned most of his 40-year career, including some of his big hits, including Jack and Diane, Pink Houses, Small Town, Check It Out, Crumblin' Down, Rain On The Scarecrow, Cherry Bomb and Authority Song.

Mellencamp also performed two unreleased songs with Carlene Carter, who also served as the opening act for the show.

43  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / John's Forward For Upcoming Jon Scott Autobiography on: October 25, 2016, 11:18:49 pm

Back in the early ‘70’s, radio was a magical place and music meant everything to so many people. Everyone was in a band or wanted to be in a band, or wanted to be a DJ, or just anything to touch the music somehow. There was a line of work that the general public never knew anything about. The guys that did this line of work were called Promo Men.

What in the world is a Promo Man? That was my first question. What did these guys actually do? There were all kinds of these guys: local, regional, national; ones that worked hard, some who barely did anything, some that just hung around and drank, and some that knew more about music than any 10 guys should know. But, the one thing they all did, was at one time or another, they all loved the music. This bunch of yahoos was willing to do anything to get what they loved on the radio, and then, through radio, reach the general public. When I say do anything, I mean they would do anything. They made deals, trading one artist against another. They promised gifts and trips and dinners, sometimes even wild, illicit, sexual parties (at least that’s what I heard). You name it, and a Promo Man could get their hands on it, if they needed to. Why… because, at the end of the day, it was for the love of music. Of course, there were egos involved, and money, and the relationships a promo guy would have with a certain artist, or the dislike of a certain artist, but even then it still came down to the music.

Jon Scott, one of the guys writing this book, was the first national promotion director that I, a 22-year-old beginner from the middle of nowhere, had ever met. He and a regional promotion director actually believed in me. Imagine that, a stranger saw promise in what I was just barely learning how to do. He believed so much… he lost his job or quit his job; over some unknown kid like me with not too good of a record, mind you; that had just been put out, that nobody else in the world even remotely believed in. Imagine that. I will always feel an attachment to Jon, although I have not seen or spoken to him in many years. I am grateful for all he taught me about the music business, about other artists and what they were doing, and how to behave in a radio station (in my case, that didn’t always take). I am grateful for the immense amount of work that he did on my behalf and others.

Promo Men…we’ll never see this kind of person again. All the good promotion guys are gone.

They all died out or got too old or moved on to someplace better. But, the work they did will not be forgotten or unnoticed, because we are still dancing and singing to the songs that these people introduced us to, through their hard work and effort, that helped shape American culture. Yes, these monkeys called Promotion Men did the business that provided the music that became the ambience and the backdrop of all our lives. They should never be forgotten.

Thank you very much, Jon Scott.

~John Mellencamp
44  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Tour Talk / Niagra Falls Review on: October 24, 2016, 12:23:59 am
Admirable Performance For Under The Weather Mellencamp
Posted on October 23, 2016 by Joseph Suto

Concert Review
John Mellencamp
Seneca Niagara Events Center
Niagara Falls, NY
Saturday October 22, 2016
Review/Photos: Joseph Suto

Saturday evening John Mellencamp returned to the Seneca Niagara Events Center. Having last played the venue in 2014, Mellencamp gave the crowd a show they won’t soon forget despite playing a short 70-minute set.

Things got off to quite an inauspicious start as halfway through the first song Mellencamp became agitated and stopped the show. He was upset with how many people were taking photos after he stated they were asked nicely not to prior to the show. After a brief scolding of the crowd he immediately jumped into “Small Town”. Later on he gave an apology as he explained he had the flu and almost had to cancel the show but chose not to. “Old people tend to get cranky” he said.

“I don’t know why I still play this next song” he quipped as he broke into the little ditty known as “Jack & Diane”, which remains his only chart topper to date. The song was performed with just Mellencamp, his acoustic guitar and the crowd singing along.

The crowd was content to this point at sitting and enjoying the music. It wasn’t until a blistering, thunderous version of “Crumblin’ Down” where that all seemed to change. The crowd got out of their seats and came to life. Continuing on with “Authority Song” kept things on the upswing and Mellencamp never looked back.

The biggest surprise of the night came with a rare play of “Hurts So Good”. The song has only been performed a smattering of times over the past six years. I’m not sure why the song that helped break his career is seldom played much anymore. He clearly enjoyed performing it judging from the smile on his face and the zest with which he performed it. The song was the catalyst in propelling American Fool to the top of the charts. Although he has enjoyed great chart success throughout his career, American Fool remains his lone number one album.

As he introduced his fabulous band he talked about how everyone loves to talk about old times which led to the nostalgic “Cherry Bomb” appropriately ending the evening.

This was the second time Mellencamp has brought his Plain Spoken tour to the area. He played Shea’s PAC last year and delivered an expansive set. The set list Saturday night was essentially an edited version focusing mostly on the hits. Although he played an abbreviated set he still managed to send everyone home happy.

Set List
Lawless Times
Small Town
Pop Singer
Check It Out
Jack & Diane
Rain On The Scarecrow
Paper In Fire
Crumblin’ Down
Authority Song/Land of 1000 Dances
Pink Houses
Hurts So Good
Cherry Bomb

His Band
Mike Wanchic – guitars, backing vocals
Andy York – guitars, backing vocals
Miriam Sturm – violin
Dane Clark – drums, backing vocals
John Gunnell – bass
Troye Kinnett – keyboards, accordion, backing vocals
45  MELLENCAMP DISCUSSION / Articles / JM, Carlene Carter celebrate their bond on tour on: October 23, 2016, 12:49:46 pm
Family matters: John Mellencamp, Carlene Carter celebrate their bond on tour
Columbia Tribune

America has a rich history of musical families. Clans whose songs have endured throughout generations, whose crests — if drawn up today — would be decorated with symbols of their legacy and innovation.

Think the Gershwin brothers. The Staples. The Jacksons.

Carlene Carter is a member of arguably America’s greatest musical family. The daughter of June Carter and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, her family tree branched out to create some of the best country and gospel music ever heard.

Sometimes a family makes music; other times, music makes the family.

Over the past three years, Carter has gained a brother — and their bond proves that music can be almost as thick as blood.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp has become more than a friend — he is more like an adopted sibling, and his belief in her has energized this chapter of her career.

Carter will open for Mellencamp at Jesse Auditorium Friday; she called his current “Plain Spoken” tour both a celebration of their work together to date, and a preview of what’s to come.


Given her upbringing, you believe Carter when she says she rarely gets star-struck.

Growing up, she lived next door to Roy Orbison for a time. She heard “Me and Bobby McGee” long before Janis Joplin did — Kris Kristofferson played it in her living room when she was 12.

In fact, Carter remembers getting stars in her eyes just once.

“Davy Jones and the Monkees came to our house when I was 13, and I lost my mind,” she said.

So when Carter meets musicians like Mellencamp, there is an immediate ease and familiarity. A sort of shared understanding and way of perceiving their surroundings.

The two had met in passing a few times before 2014, when Mellencamp called Carter to sing on the soundtrack he was composing for “Ithaca,” a film directed by Meg Ryan.

During that studio session, Carter and Mellencamp had a genuine heart-to-heart about their lives, she said, and she found him easy to talk to. Mellencamp concluded the time by asking Carter if she was “excited about next year.”

Carter was confused by the query; Mellencamp made it plain he wanted her on his next tour. Carter was delighted by the prospect, calling Mellencamp one of her favorite songwriters.

“He is part of the soundtrack to my life, like he is to a lot of people,” she said, sharing her memories of dancing to his hits and singing them loudly while driving in her convertible decades ago.

The pair have traveled extensively together since. Carter opens the show for Mellencamp and, at some point in the set, they do a few songs together. They have become quite natural singing partners.

“I don’t have a hard time figuring out where he’s going to go; it’s like I already know where he’s going,” Carter said.

Carter and Mellencamp have more in common than musical sensibility. Both have lived and made work with a similar sense of purpose and stubbornness.

“We both have been uncompromised artists. ... I think we have that in common, almost like little rebels,” she said.


Mellencamp also is a brother figure to Mike Wanchic. The guitarist is celebrating his 40th year working with the singer-songwriter; the two have matured musically together.

When Mellencamp and Wanchic met, they quickly found musical common ground. Mellencamp grew up in Seymour, Ind., Wanchic in Lexington, Ky. As they came of age, both tuned their antennae to the same radio station out of Louisville, Ky.

“Just by that alone, we heard a musical language that was very, very similar,” Wanchic said.

To hear Wanchic tell it, the sort of friendship Mellencamp and Carter have developed is par for the course. One of Mellencamp’s truest traits is his loyalty, he said, which has led him to work with many of the same band members for decades.

Andy York, for example, is the junior player in the band’s three-guitar attack — and he has been with Mellencamp for more than 20 years.

That stability has led to a musical simpatico, Wanchic said.

He can tell when Mellencamp is going to skip the verse of a song before he does it, or know when the band’s drummer is going to make a turn. That sort of intuition is something the hottest session player couldn’t walk in and feel, he said.

At this junction in the road, Mellencamp’s band seeks to find the balance between playing expected crowd-pleasers and maintaining a level of artistic satisfaction, Wanchic said. That’s why it plays “nice theaters,” not “basketball joints,” he said.

Mellencamp has been in the public eye since his Johnny Cougar days in the 1970s, going from jukebox heartthrob to seasoned statesman.

What outsiders might not realize, however, is how consistent a figure he has been throughout. “He’s just a guy,” Wanchic said.

Mellencamp doesn’t have to keep living in Indiana, for example, but his faithfulness to his family and band “supersedes all the nonsense in this business,” Wanchic said.


Mellencamp and Carter’s closeness is spilling over into a joint record. The forthcoming “Sad Clowns and Hillbillies” is no traditional duet album, Carter said. Each artist will sing a few songs alone and a few songs together.

While Carter has her own successful resume to call on, she is thankful Mellencamp continues to see and hear something in her.

The music business is all about the newest, shiniest thing, she said. To join the tour some 40 years into her career is a vote of confidence from Mellencamp.

For Wanchic’s part, he sees why the collaboration works and said he couldn’t have dreamed up a more fitting addition to the band.

“She is a kindred spirit like none I’ve ever met,” he said of Carter.
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