John Prine’s brilliant Chicago surprise

By Ray Chelstowski

For Record Store Day 2015, John Prine’s Oh Boy Records made a rare contribution to the exclusive vinyl offerings. Only 2,000 numbered copies of this record were made available for sale and to this day online record forums are filled with postings from collectors, desperate to find a way to get their hands on one. Two years later and almost forty years to the date of the original recording, the album has been made available digitally. Beyond its collector status on vinyl what is clear from even the first track is that this recording, one that captures a live performance from 1978, is priceless.

John Prine was returning home to Chicago in the fall of 1978, having just released the album Bruised Orange, as expected a folk driven effort. He was in Chicago to record his next album, Pink Cadillac, what would become first “electric” record. Just prior to entering the studio he and his new band hit the legendary Chicago concert spot, Park West. There they could stretch their legs, see how things might gel, and try out some different material. As they say “fortunately for all of us the tape was rolling.”

Backed by Tommy Piekarski, Howard Levy and Johnny Burns Prine had to have shocked the audience with what turned out to be a full fire rock performance, some argue to be his first. The record opens with the barn-burning rambler, Often Is A Word I Seldom Use. It heaves and ho’s with heavy harmonica parts. It then moves to the bluesiest Angel From Montgomery you may have ever heard, and to this listener the finest. Prine even squeezed in a few covers, playing songs from The Righteous Brothers and Elvis Presley (Treat Me Nice).

Prine stumbled across September 78 (Live) during some general housecleaning at his home in Nashville. Charged by his wife Fiona to clean out the basement, Prine came across tapes from the show –  “the little gems you find when the wife makes you clean out the basement … these are some good songs.”

Indeed they are, and this performance is as well. This show captures a transitional career moment for sure. But more importantly it puts on display a John Prine just having fun, trying something new, and an audience doing very much the same.

Listen here:

Sweet Revenge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29kvNy3J4OI

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