Simple Pleasures and Buried Treasures

Watch this little interview first:

The last time I saw Prine was at Massey Hall about 13 years ago. My girlfriend snuck us in backstage by sweet talking the security guard at the back of the theatre. We made our way down the hallway to stand in line with the other autograph seekers (about 10 in all). When it was our turn, Prine signed ‘All the Best – John Prine’ on his Fair and Square CD. Then she began to explain that I was a songwriter and a big fan of his. Without a word of a lie he said “Well, I have an Irish bride that would rather I don’t go out drinking after my shows anymore BUT….(as he turned to his two bandmates – Jason Wilbur and Dave Jacques) “Why don’t you guys take these two out and tell them John Prine stories. My treat!” The band then invited us to sit with them in the green room where we met the opening artist Dan Reeder.
Dan was an ex-pat living in Germany as a painter, luthier, family man and part-time songwriter. As the story goes he loved Prine. So, he wrote a bunch of songs on his handcrafted guitar and recorded them at his home studio, sent them to Prine on a homemade CD with a two-sentence note describing his love of Prine’s songs and his phone number. Prine was so blown away by his songs he called him up and said: “Dan, how would you like to become famous?” Wanna open for me across North America?”
As Dan explained to me, he said “I put the phone down and asked my wife. Of course, she said yes! Then I asked Prine what I should wear and he said: “Wear whatever you want!”
To this day I remember Dan Reeder walking out to open that show in worn-out sneakers, faded Levis, a green t-shirt, a red ballcap and reading glasses all the while sitting on a stool with his guitar like he was at an open mic. His songs blew me away. I’m still a fan.
For instance, The Work Song: He had the audience singing “I got aaaalllll….alllll the fucking work I need…I got aaaalllll …..alll the fucking work I need!” Over and over again. Too great. Check him out

(In fact, the story of Dan writing Prine that letter and sending him an accompanying CD of original material was the exact inspiration for me doing the same to Ian Tyson. In a small way, that story changed the trajectory of my life. Thanks for the inspiration Dan).


After that, the bass player Dave brought us out to the hotel lounge where they were
staying around the corner. We closed the place down and heard some amazing road stories but the best of them all was about Dave being in the right place at the right time.
(Paraphrasing of course) “I was jobbing around Nashville a few years ago playing for everyone. Broke, tired and my wife was soon to have a baby. I had made my mind up that I was going to get a real nine-to-five job. I actually went downtown that day to do some job hunting. Along the way, I ran into a friend who asked if I could sub in for a gig that he couldn’t make in the weeks to follow. It was a one-off for John Prine.
Two years later, I’m still on the road with him and have never looked back. It changed my life.” In other words, Dave’s story was an all too familiar one about perseverance: albeit HIS story had a happy ending. I believe he’s still Prine’s bass player. I must have really thought he was ok because by the end of the night we were trashed and as I discussed my two-left feet he brought my girlfriend up to the dance floor and danced to 80’s music. (Gotta watch those damn bass players! lol) Too funny. As the night was over, he said he would try to get us tickets to Friday nights London show. The next day, Dave called and said it was all good “You’re on the guest list and we have you sitting four rows back – dead center!” What a guy. “Come down early and hang with us and meet John.”
So there we were two nights later in the green room once again. Dave took me over to sit with John in another room. I don’t remember what we talked about other than to say he was as cool as one could be with that scenario. During all of that, I noticed my new champion was handing out one of my earlier CD’s entitled Cashing in on Peace.
(I was a bit surprised and I know for certain I would never have done this if it were just me.  It was a country-tinged bluegrass style record of heavily Prine influenced songs. We recorded it live in one day around one mic: (bluegrass style) and added some bells and whistles after the fact. The owners of the Cameron House (prior to the sale about 15 years ago) had a Saturday afternoon band called The Cameron Family singers: Kevin Quain, Tony Benettar, Tom Parker and others. They became my band for the session. It was a unique CD – more comical than anything I’d ever done. A rail against the hippies turned yuppies.) 


Anyway, not long afterward I heard from Jason Wilbur about my CD and for a while, we were exchanging emails about songwriting. That was cool. That’s the last I heard of it.
We enjoyed the London concert which was essentially a carbon copy of the Toronto show. The difference though was how Prine kept his in-between song banter in the moment…and yes we even got a brief nod as “the Toronto couple who we’ve come to know!” How cool was that?

What I didn’t tell anyone is that I’d snuck in my old cassette voice recorder (yes that’s what I said kids – CASSETTE voice recorder – I’m a fucking Luddite – get over it) and recorded the Toronto show. I did this for my cousin Ken up in the Soo who was one of the first Prine fans I’d met. He loved Prine so much I gave him my entire collection of cassettes and then decided to bootleg him this concert for good measure. Unethical? Perhaps. But by today’s copyright standards – a genius move.

I bring all of this up because just the other day I was unpacking the few boxes I’d put in storage while I roamed the musical trail untethered for the past ten years. I was down to four blue bins  – a minimalist’s dream. (Possessions are bullshit). In one of the bins was a shoebox labeled ‘Buried Treasure”. What a trip! I found three letters from Ian Tyson and four from Don Cherry. About twenty rejection letters from 1993-1995. (The nicest of which was from Holger Peterson of Stony Plain Records who took the time to write a one-page letter about my live cassette submission. “Jay, you show great potential etc….remember to keep your guitars in tune…” It was very heartfelt and honest. That’s why people love the guy. It’s the little things. Things you don’t forget on the way up.

Also in the box were posters and articles and at the very bottom a cassette with my writing “Prine – Massey Hall – for Ken.”
I mailed the cassette to Ken last week and he still hasn’t received it. (Maybe it’s the postal strike?)  I haven’t heard it in all these years. I hope it sounds ok. The next trick is finding a cassette player to play it. I’m sure the Goodwill will have something.

So, this morning I noticed Prine was being featured on CBS’s Sunday Morning show and I had to watch it. His final act is becoming his biggest. I won’t say his album Tree of Forgiveness is any better or worse than any other of his efforts. Anything Prine creates is cool and everlasting. I’m really happy he’s getting this swansong. I knew something was happening three years ago when I was hosting a campfire jam at midnight at the Trout Forest Folk Festival in Northwestern ON. About fifty guitar slingers showed up and it went until 4am. One young girl, no more than twenty years old, began singing Sam Stone and then Big Old Goofy World. She blew everyone away. Then it started a John-Prin-a-thon. I was supposed to be encouraging original material but it was too much fun. I stopped the proceedings at one point to ask that first girl interpreting Prine how she came to know his music? “My father used to sing me his songs as a baby. He was my Fred Penner.” The same story was repeated again and again that night as we conducted our John Prine Shrine to the stars. I realized then and there, his relevance was beyond a small cult-like figure. I could see this second-spring coming a mile away.

I sure hope he gets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I said I’d boycott it if they ever let Bon Jovi in – and they just did!  But if John Prine gets in, I’ll begrudgingly overlook the Bon Jovi atrocity and like a steel cowboy, ride into Cleveland wanted dead or alive to pay my respects to the man who’s offered me a lifetime of beautiful art.

When I Get to Heaven – John Prine

When I get to Heaven

I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings
Then one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar
And start a Rock and Roll band
Check into a swell hotel
Ain’t the ‘Afterlife’ grand!

And then I’m gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and Ginger Ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette
That’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl
On the Tilt a Whirl
‘Cause this old man is going to town

Then as God as my witness
I’m gettin’ back into show business
I’m gonna open up a nightclub called
‘The Tree of Forgiveness’
And forgive everybody
Ever done me any harm
I might even invite a few choice critics
Those syphilitic parasitics
Buy ’em a pint of Smithwick’s
And smother’em with my charm

‘Cause then I’m gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and Ginger Ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette
That’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl
On the Tilt a Whirl
Yeah this old man is going to town

Yeah when I get to heaven
I’m gonna take
That wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time
After you’ve bought the farm
And then I’m gonna go find my Mom and Dad
And good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie
Are still cuttin’ up a rug
Wanna see all my mama’s sisters
‘Cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy
Bless their little hearts
And I always will remember
These words my daddy said
He said, “Buddy, when you’re dead
You’re a dead peckerhead”
I hope to prove him wrong
That is … when I get to heaven

‘Cause I’m gonna have a cocktail
Vodka and Ginger Ale
Gonna smoke a cigarette
That’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl
On the Tilt a Whirl
Yeah this old man is going to town
Yeah this old man is going to town


2 responses to “Simple Pleasures and Buried Treasures”

  1. JANE HARBURY: Jay I first met John back in ‘70 or ‘71 the first time he played a week at the ‘boat. He had just stopped doing mailman duties after Kristofferson heard and met him and Steve G. Kris intro’d them to Paul Anka who took em both on as manager. I still have a thank note from Anka’s baby brother Andy who was sent out on the road as their tour manager. This was really hard as they both were pretty unmanageable in those days. One day I’ll tell more Prine n Goodman stories

  2. Great story Jay. Thanks for the acknowledgement. There’s no doubt about my 40 plus year acquaintance with Prine. I always felt like he had an insight into my heart and head. He had the unique ability to make me laugh and cry,,all in the same song, a sentiment I heard in the CBS, Sunday Morning Show interview this morning. That is how I’ve described him for years, to potential fans. Im both happy and sad to see his recent brush with fame, also. His wife, Fiona, refers to his purposeful reluctance of achieving success because he will lose his anonymity at the grocery store. I totally agree. His humility is over the top and very endearing.

    Great story, Jay.
    Thanks, again.

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