Hello In There

by Mark Dvorak

By the time I first picked up a guitar John Prine and his songs were already there. It seemed they’d always been there. He grew up working class, not too far from where I grew up and somehow that mattered.

When I was a student at the Old Town School of Folk Music I saw his picture from when he was a student. A guy named Ray Tate was his teacher then, and one night in class Ray told a story about John’s guitar playing, how solid and musical it was. Ray showed us the picking pattern he showed John some years before and wrote it out on the blackboard. We in class copied it down and began working away. It was the same picking pattern John used on “Hello In There” from his first record. And I couldn’t get enough.

Ray, who was a master of many guitar styles later said that John only wanted to learn country music and Carter-style picking. Ray one time brought in a classical piece for his class and John just packed up his guitar and walked out.

John became one of my musical suppliers - lots of us were doing his songs as best we could early on. And then a day came when I realized how complete his writing voice was. How complete was his performing style. And what came with that realization was a thought that something else deep and profound was also going on beneath all his joking around and cornball-country simplicity. It was around that time I became serious about learning to develop my own writing and style. Reflecting this morning, it’s as if John was asking all along, “Ain’t it kinda fun to find out how to be yourself?”

And I found myself headed to Tennessee one summer and took the long way, through Muhlenberg County in western Kentucky, not far from the Tennessee state line. The little town of Drakesboro is a place from where many guitar pickers have come and are honored. Mose Rager is from there and he showed everybody the Kentucky thumb-style picking including Ike Everly, father of the famous Everly brothers. Merle Travis grew up in the next town over, Greenville, which is a little bigger.

The quiet streets of Drakesboro are named for famous Kentucky pickers including Rager, Everly and Travis. Eddie Pennington too, is remembered as is Thom Bresh and others. The main road into town is Highway 431 and the stretch of it through Drakesboro is named John Prine Avenue. The Paradise Fossil Plant is right there, or used to be, and you can order pie and a cup of coffee at the Paradise Cafe right there on the corner of Prine and Rager.

When I arrived at the little festival the next day John and his songs, Drakesboro and fingerpicking guitar were on my mind. I closed my set that afternoon with John’s great song, “Paradise.” An old-timer waved over as I climbed down off the stage and asked about that last song I did. He said he knew all the songs from this part of the country and had never heard that one before. He about fell over when I told him it was written by a mailman from Chicago. He didn’t believe me at all, but I did send him a copy of it.


Visit MD’s FaceBook page here to view photos of his visit to Drakesboro, KY in 2011.

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