Atlantic 45 of the week: John Prine – Sam Stone / Blue Umbrella (Atlantic 2815 1971)

Every week I will print an entry from my forthcoming book “US Atlantic Singles 1947-77″. This week is the turn of cult singer-songwriter John Prine’s debut 45:
 

2815 JOHN PRINE
Sam Stone (Prine) / Blue Umbrella (Prine)
Billboard Pop: none Billboard R&B: none
Recorded: 1971.
Released: Aug 1971.
Other issues: none.
Available On: John Prine (Atlantic 19156 – originally 8296 1971).

Cult singer songwriter John Prine never had a hit single in his career, and although he has consistently delivered the goods, only one album in 35 years managed to breach the Top 100. His stay with Atlantic lasted four years, during which time he delivered as many long players. His first, John Prine, was released in the summer of 1971, but it wasn’t until six months later that it made a brief three week visit to the Billboard albums chart.

Prine was born on October 10th 1946 in Maywood, Illinois. His grandfather had played with country legend Merle Travis, and this provided part of the inspiration for the youngster to take up guitar. After a spell in the army, Prine took his guitar and songs around the coffee bars of the Chicago folk circuit during the late sixties. He came to the attention of Kris Kristofferson who was impressed by his songs and recommended Prine to Atlantic. The first record was recorded in Memphis, with Arif Mardin behind the desk and a host of renowned country and rock sessioneers providing support including Bobby Emmons, Reggie Young and Neal Rosengarden. Prine’s brother Dave played fiddle, and there were contributions from Steve Goodman (1948-84), a fellow Chicagoan and long time friend of Prine’s. The album was well received, even if it didn’t exactly fly out of the shops. It remains one of his best, with several of the songs achieving standard status.

One of these was “Sam Stone” , the debut 45. The story of a heroin-addicted Vietnam veteran, the song is full of chilling imagery such as “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes” and ends with tragedy as “There was nothing to be done / But trade the house he bought on the G.I. Bill / For a flag-draped casket on a local heroes’ hill”. The song has been covered by artists as diverse as George Faith, Evan Dando, Laura Cantrell and Johnny Cash.

 

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