John Mellencamp

  • Heartland rock guitarist born in 1951 in Seymour Indiana.
  • He formed his first band, Crepe Soul, when he was 14 years old. He played in numerous local bands, and after graduating from Vincennes University, he played in a glam rock band called Trash. By 1974, he decided to try to make a career in music, and he moved back and forth from Indiana to New York to try to land a record deal.
  • By 1976, he finally found a label interested in him. They insisted that he change his name to Johnny Cougar, thinking the name Mellencamp was too hard to market. He reluctantly agreed, thinking that the name was silly, and his debut album, Chestnut Street Incident, was released. It sold only 12,000 copies.
  • He recorded his next album, The Kid Inside, in 1977, but the label didn’t like it, and they dropped him. Subsequently, the album was released in 1983, after Mellencamp had his breakthrough in music. As such, it actually is his 6th studio album. It did not chart, and it had no singles.
  • He signed with a UK based record label, and 3 albums were released from 1978 to 1980. The first only was popular in Australia, but the next 2 charted in the U.S., and several singles made it to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with Ain’t Even Done With the Night peaking at #17.
  • His major breakthrough was with 1982’s American Fool album. It topped the Billboard 200 album chart, selling over 5 million copies. The 2 singles that are still heard constantly on classic rock radio are Hurt’s So Good and Jack and Diane. Jack and Diane is his only #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
  • By now, he had enough clout with the record company to get his real name on the album cover. In 1983, he released the album Uh-Huh, using the name John Cougar Mellencamp. The next 3 albums also would use this name.
  • The 6 albums of the 80s sold well – all sold over 1 million copies, with 2 selling over 5 million. The big hits during this period included Pink Houses, Small Town, R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A., Cherry Bomb and Check It Out. 
  • By 1990, he was simply John Mellencamp – no more Cougar in his name. His 6 albums released in the 90s continued to be successful, particularly those in the first half of the decade. Top 20 songs during this period were Get a Leg Up, Wild Night (recorded with Meshell Ndegeocello), and Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First). 
  • He continues to release music, with 7 albums since 2000. His most recent album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, was released in April 2017, and is his 23rd studio album. It prominently features contributions by country singer Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter and June’s first husband Carl Smith.
  • His music has developed a distinctive sound to it, described as heartland rock, roots rock or folk rock. The songs are straightforward, and do not have fancy production techniques. They are about the average blue collar American, and they generally have some sort of social purpose to them – they are not just pop songs.
  • He has dabbled in an acting career, appearing in 4 films from 1992 to 2002, and he directed the film Falling From Grace. He also is an accomplished painter, and he planned to be an artist if his music career had not been successful. He has had several exhibitions of his artwork at various museums through the U.S.
  • In 2000, he began working with horror author Steven King on a musical theater piece called Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. The show debuted in 2012 in Atlanta, and has toured various cities in the U.S. in 2013 and 2014. He also wrote the film score and 2 original songs for Meg Ryan’s 2015 film Ithaca. 
  • Mellencamp was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. He won 1 Grammy award for Best Male Rock Performer for Hurts So Good. 
  • John Mellencamp and heartland rock go hand in hand. He certainly brought the genre into the 21st century. He also has been an advocate of many causes – he was one of the originators of Farm Aid, the charity concerts from the 80s to help support farmers. Watch Mellencamp perform Small Town at the Farm Aid III concert from 1987.

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