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John Mellencamp Biography

Home > Music > M > Mellencamp, John > Biography

Born: 1951/10/07
Birth Place: Seymour, Indiana, U.S.
Years Active: 1976–present
Genres: Rock, Heartland Rock, Roots Rock, Folk

John Mellencamp, previously known by the stage names Johnny Cougar, John Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp, (born October 7, 1951) is an American rock singer-songwriter, musician, painter and occasional actor known for his catchy, populist brand of heartland rock that eschews synthesizers and other artificial sounds in favor of organic instrumentation. Mellencamp is also one of the founding members of Farm Aid, an organization that began in 1985 with a concert in Champaign, Illinois to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. The Farm Aid concerts have remained an annual event over the past 25 years.

After about 18 months of traveling back and forth from Indiana to New York City in 1974 and 1975, Mellencamp finally found someone receptive to his music and image in Tony DeFries of MainMan Management. DeFries insisted that Mellencamp's first album, 1976’s “Chestnut Street Incident,” a collection of covers and a handful of original songs, be released under the stage name Johnny Cougar, suggesting that the bumpy German name “Mellencamp” was too hard to market. The album was a complete failure, selling only 12,000 copies.

Mellencamp's next album, 1979's “John Cougar,” featured “I Need a Lover” which became a #28 single in late 1979. In 1980, Mellencamp returned with the Steve Cropper-produced “Nothin' Matters and What If It Did,” which yielded two Top 40 singles “This Time” at #27 and “Ain't Even Done With the Night” at #17.

In 1982, Mellencamp released his breakthrough album, “American Fool,” which contained the singles, “Hurts So Good,” an up tempo rock tune that spent four weeks at #2 and 16 weeks in the Top 10, and “Jack & Diane,” which was a #1 hit for four weeks. A third single, “Hand to Hold On To,” made it to #19. “Hurts So Good” went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance at the 25th Grammys.

With some commercial success under his belt, Mellencamp had enough clout to force the record company to add his real surname to his stage moniker. The first album he recorded as John Cougar Mellencamp was 1983's “Uh-Huh,” a Top 10 album that spawned the Top 10 singles “Pink Houses,” “Crumblin' Down” as well as the #14 hit “Authority Song.”

In 1985, Mellencamp released “Scarecrow,” which peaked at #2 and spawned five Top 40 singles, “Lonely Ol' Night” and “Small Town” at #6, “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to '60s Rock)” at #2, “Rain on the Scarecrow” at #21 and “Rumbleseat” at #28.

Mellencamp's next LP, 1987's “The Lonesome Jubilee,” included the singles “Paper in Fire,” which peaked at #9, “Cherry Bomb” at #8 and “Check It Out” at #14 along with the popular album tracks, “Hard Times for an Honest Man” and “The Real Life,” both of which garnered significant radio airplay even though they didn't achieve any chart position.

In 1989, Mellencamp released the album, “Big Daddy,” with the key tracks “Jackie Brown,” “Big Daddy of Them All” and “Void in My Heart” accompanying the Top 15 single “Pop Singer.” The album was the last to feature the “Cougar” moniker.

Mellencamp's 1991 album, “Whenever We Wanted,” was the first with a cover billed to John Mellencamp as the “Cougar” was now gone forever. “Whenever We Wanted” yielded the Top 40 hits “Get a Leg Up” and “Again Tonight,” but “Last Chance,” “Love and Happiness” and “Now More Than Ever” all garnered significant airplay on rock radio.

Mellencamp's 1994 album, “Dance Naked” included a cover of Van Morrison's “Wild Night” as a duet with Meshell Ndegeocello which reached #3.

In September 1996, the experimental album, “Mr. Happy Go Lucky,” which was produced by Junior Vasquez, was released. “Mr. Happy Go Lucky” spawned the #14 single “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)” (Mellencamp's last Top 40 hit), and “Just Another Day,” which peaked at #46.

Issued a day before his 47th birthday in 1998, his self-titled debut for Columbia Records included the singles, “Your Life is Now” and “I'm Not Running Anymore,” along with standout album tracks such as “Eden Is Burning,” “Miss Missy,” “It All Comes True” and “Chance Meeting At The Tarantula.”

The early 21st century found Mellencamp teaming up with artists such as Chuck D and India.Arie to deliver his second Columbia album, 2001’s “Cuttin' Heads” and the single “Peaceful World.” “Cuttin' Heads” also included a duet with Trisha Yearwood on a love song called “Deep Blue Heart.”

In 2003, he released, “Trouble No More,” a quickly-recorded collection of folk and blues covers originally done by artists such as Robert Johnson, Son House, Lucinda Williams and Hoagie Carmichael. “Trouble No More” spent several weeks at #1 on Billboard's Blues Album charts.

In 2007 Mellencamp released, “Freedom's Road,” his first album of original material in over five years. “Our Country,” the first single from the album, was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award in the category Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance. Mellencamp wrote and produced all ten songs on “Freedom's Road,” and the record peaked at #5. In addition to “Our Country,” “Freedom's Road” included “Jim Crow,” a duet with Joan Baez, “Rural Route” and “Someday,” which was the album's second single.

Mellencamp’s 18th album of original material, titled “Life, Death, Love and Freedom.” was released in 2008, and was produced by acclaimed roots producer T. Bone Burnett. It became the ninth Top 10 album of Mellencamp's career when it debuted at #7 on the Billboard 200.

In 2009 Mellencamp recorded a new album, titled “No Better Than This,” that was again produced by T-Bone Burnett. The album was recorded in mono and tracks for the album were recorded at historic locations, such as the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia as well as at the Sun Studio in Memphis and the Sheraton Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where blues pioneer Robert Johnson recorded “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Crossroad Blues.” It peaked at #10 on the Billboard 200, becoming the 10th Top 10 album of his career. “No Better Than This” is the first mono-only release to make the Top 10 since James Brown's “Pure Dynamite! Live At The Royal,” which peaked at #10 in April 1964.

Mellencamp has sold over 40 million albums worldwide and has amassed 22 Top 40 hits in the United States. In addition, he holds the record for the most tracks by a solo artist to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, with seven, and has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning one. Mellencamp was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on in 2008 by Billy Joel.