For more than 35 years, John Mellencamp has been bucking expectations, ducking artistic stagnation and not-so-quietly making his mark on American rock ’n’ roll.
The legendary artist performs Saturday, June 20, at Bell Auditorium in support of his album Plain Spoken.
While his list of instantly recognizable hits is long and distinguished, Mellencamp is more than merely some songs that have made radio waves. Over the course of his career he has dabbled – with varying degrees of success and intensity – in the fields of art, film and, of course, music. Below are 10 facts fans might find surprising.
1. Although he was credited as Johnny Cougar on his first album and kept the moniker for several years, he was never a fan. It was his manager who gave him the moniker despite Mellencamp’s resistance.
2. Mellencamp’s breakout release was not his first, second or even third release. American Fool, which included the hits Hurts So Good and Jack & Diane, was his fifth album.
3. Mellencamp’s fourth album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did was produced by Stax Studios guitar man Steve Cropper, best known for his work with Booker T. and the MGs, Otis Redding and the Blues Brothers.
4. Mellencamp’s 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee is the first credited to John Mellencamp. It was released 11 years after his Johnny Cougar debut.
5. Along with Neil Young and Willie Nelson, Mellencamp is one of the founders of the Farm Aid project, an annual concert organized to raise awareness about the increasing loss of family farms in the United States and to raise funds to keep farming families on their land. The 30th iteration of the concert is scheduled to take place on Sept. 19.
6. Mellencamp’s 1994 hit (with Me’Shell Ndegocello) Wild Night was originally written and performed by Van Morrison.
7. Although Mellencamp once sang that when “I fight authority, authority always wins,” he has remained staunchly independent and resistant to corporate intervention – going as far as refusing lucrative tour sponsorships from beer and tobacco companies on principle.
8. Mellencamp worked with partners T. Bone Burnett and Stephen King for more than a decade on the stage musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. The piece was originally performed at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in 2012.
9. Mellencamp is also a serious artist who studied at the Art Student League in New York. He recently had a retrospective of his work on display at the Morris Museum of Art.
10. Mellencamp was initially encouraged to show his work publicly by fellow artist and musician Bob Dylan.