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A pop sensation in the 1980s, singer-songwriter John Mellencamp has evolved into one of rock’s most enduring acts, and given voice to the small-town experience.
John Mellencamp - Full Biography (45:15)
John Mellencamp - Full Episode (45:15)
The grandson of an Indiana farmer, John Mellencamp grew into a pop/rock icon. Starting as a pop star with hits like "Hand to Hold Onto" and rebellious youth songs like "Play Guitar," he became a "Springsteen of the Midwest."
Starting as a pop star with rebellious youth songs like "Play Guitar," he became a "Springsteen of the Midwest" with his "Small Town" and "Pink Houses," while lending major support to the cause of Farm Aid.
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John Mellencamp was born October 7, 1951, in Seymour, Indiana. He eventually moved to New York City to launch his career. His first album was released in 1976, but failed to sell many copies. In 1979, he had his first hit, “I Need a Lover." His next effort, had two successful singles in 1980. His biggest career breakthrough came in 1982 with the chart-topping album American Fool.
John Cougar Mellencamp was born on October 7, 1951, in Seymour, Indiana. A pop sensation in the 1980s, John Mellencamp has evolved into one of rock’s most enduring acts. He often give voice to the American small-town experience in his music—something he knows quite well from his childhood in Seymour.
One of five children, Mellencamp developed an interest in music early on. He started playing in a cover band called Crepe Soul in his early teens. With a rebellious streak, Mellencamp hung out with his friends and partied instead of paying much attention to his schooling. His father, an executive with a local electronics firm, tried to motivate him to pursue athletics and his studies with little luck. At the age of 18, Mellencamp eloped with his pregnant 23-year-old girlfriend Priscilla Esterline. The couple soon welcomed a daughter, Michelle.
Mellencamp took courses at a community college and worked a few jobs before returning to his music. He recorded several demos of his songs and eventually moved to New York City to launch his career. In 1976, he landed a manager, Tony DeFries, who worked with the likes of David Bowie. DeFries decided to change Mellencamp’s last name to Cougar, believing that it make him more appealing to the record-buying public. Mellencamp was not pleased with this decision and would later return to his birth name.
The first Johnny Cougar album, Chestnut Street Incident, was released by MCA in 1976, but failed to sell many copies. Derived by critics, Mellencamp was seen by some as a lesser version of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Seger. MCA never released his second album and dropped him from the label. Around this time, Mellencamp also lost his manager.
Mellencamp’s fortunes soon improved. In 1979, he had his first hit, “I Need a Lover,” off his John Cougar album released that year. His next effort, Nothing Matters and What If It Did (1980) had two successful singles, “This Time” and “Ain’t Even Done With the Night.”
While his career was starting to thrive, Mellencamp was going through some changes in his personal life. His first marriage ended in divorce, and he wed Vicky Granucci in 1981. The couple had two daughters, Teddi Jo and Justice, before divorcing in 1989.
Mellencamp’s biggest career breakthrough came in 1982 with the chart-topping album American Fool. His ode to a young couple in middle America, “Jack and Diane,” reached the top of the pop charts. For “Hurts So Good,” another hit from the album, Mellencamp won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male.
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