About The Artist
The Set List
The Soundcheck Crew recently traveled to Hollywood's famous Capitol Studios. Inside, one gets a real sense of American rock 'n' roll history; autographed pictures of music legends line the walls - there's even a Les Paul-engineered echo chamber. It's a fitting stage for John Mellencamp - a living American rock 'n' roll legend. Hot off his highly acclaimed, recently released album, Freedom's Road, John and his band thrilled us with a passionate performance rich in song and vivid imagery. Clearly, this is a man with many stories to tell.
Over the years, Mellencamp has been lauded for his rock 'n' roll talents, though rarely receives credit for his stellar songwriting. We asked the Indiana-born artist about the craft of making music. "Writing the songs for Freedom's Road took almost a year," he explains. "When I'm writing, I write every day. I'm constantly writing 10 or 12 hours a day. Some songs are given to me... I don't really have much input into them. Other songs you have to labor over. But the melody of the song and the lyrical content... all that comes at the same time."
Throughout his career, Mellencamp has racked up thousands of frequent flier miles on stages across the world. Does he still love it? "I prefer being in the studio... than on stage," he confesses. "I'm one of these guys who plays in front of 10,000 people, and 9,999 are into it, but you see that one kind of guy that's not into it... It's just too frustrating for me."
On Regretting 'Pink Houses'
How many times have you heard a critically acclaimed artist lament the creation of one of his own classics? Mellencamp told us an intriguing story that touches on an artist's perfection. "I'm always trying to make things work," he explains. "I had a song called 'Pink Houses,' and even to this day, I hear the last verse come by and I'm disappointed... because I know I rushed through it and had the opportunity to change it, but I just didn't do it. I just know that that last verse could be better."
It's easy these days to label someone a legend, but few folks fit the bill. John Mellencamp is a true American poet; a regular guy born in the Heartland who uses words and music to connect to the soul of the country.
Today, we met someone who isn't afraid to take risks and travel to new musical landscapes. Armed with just a guitar and a song, John's got a message that's equally inspiring as it is enjoyable. So give the performance a listen - it's a memorable one. Oh, and if you haven't checked out Freedom's Road, pick it up today. Till next time.
-The Crew at Wal-Mart Soundcheck
- Mellencamp's band are: Dane Clark (drums, percussion)l; Jon E. Gee (bass); Troye Kinnett (keyboards); Miriam Sturm (violin); Mike Wanchic (guitars, vocals); and Andy York (guitars, vocals, flute-a-phone).
- John is a family man. He has five children, and is married to supermodel Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp.
- He was born with a mild form of spina bifida, but surgery corrected the condition when he was 3 weeks old.
- Though he's been recording since the '70s, Mellencamp enjoyed his biggest success in the '80s with such hits as 'Pink Houses,' 'Jack and Diane,' and 'Cherry Bomb.'
- What's up next for John? He's slated to spend this summer working on a Broadway musical with horror writer Stephen King!
This introspective first cut from Freedom's Road leads off the Soundcheck set in an upbeat way, but it's soon clear that Mellencamp has deeper issues at heart. "This is the road of madness and trouble," he sings. "And it's paved with intolerance, ignorance and fear."
Poetic and uplifting, 'Our Country' is a true American anthem and a paean to freedom of speech. "Well, I can stand beside ideals I think are right," Mellencamp croons, "And I can stand beside the idea to stand and fight." Incidentally, "Freedom's Road" is John's highest debuting album ever - a huge feat due in no small part to the success of this licensed-for-television song.
With its rousing chorus and uplifting melody, 'My Aeroplane' is a classic Mellencamp tune. Singing about lending a "helping hand," the song soars high as it circles back to the album's overall theme of freedom. Sings Mellencamp: "If this song could spread happiness, I'd sing it long and loud all over this land."
Paper in Fire
John revisits an '80s classic in this faithful rendition of the popular tune. Listening to this song so many years later, the lyrics still strike a poignant chord. He sings: "Who's to say the way a man should spend his days? Do you let them smolder like paper in fire?"
Closing out his set with the title track to the new album, Mellencamp delivers a pitch-perfect acoustic rendition. "Freedom's Road" has been compared to Woody Guthrie's classic, "This Land Is Your Land," and it's easy to see why. Sings a wistful Mellencamp: "I'm navigating my way down Freedom's Road... trying to make my way back home."