Grammy-winning singer-songwriter John Prine died Tuesday of COVID-19 complications, his family says. The 73-year-old folk-country artist was admired by such big-name colleagues as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and, as Rolling Stone reports, he helped shape the Americana genre, whose current stars Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile, among others, were also fans of his. Born in a Chicago suburb to the president of the local steelworkers' union and raised on the stars of the Grand Ole Opry, Prine started writing songs at a young age. After high school, he became a postal worker, an era during which he wrote many of his "classics," per Rolling Stone. He was drafted into the army during the Vietnam War, though he ended up in Germany instead. Upon his return home, Roger Ebert discovered him performing at a Chicago club's open mic night.
After Ebert's glowing review of that 1970 performance (which you can read in full here), Prine started selling out shows, including one attended by Kris Kristofferson and Paul Anka. They, too, were impressed, which ultimately led to Prine's deal with Atlantic Records. His self-titled debut album was released in 1971. Rolling Stone says he spent much of his career "underground," with his songs covered and sung by such luminaries as Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash, George Strait, the Everly Brothers, Joan Baez, Carly Simon, and Bette Midler—but his 2018 album, his first one in 13 years featuring original material, was the highest debut of his career and led to some of the biggest shows he'd ever done (and that was after he beat cancer twice). Of his music, the New York Times says he "chronicled the human condition in song," telling stories including those of of a drug-addicted war veteran, a lonely elderly couple, and a middle-aged woman stuck in a bad marriage. (Here are seven essential tracks.)