John Mellencamp biography
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.
The videos for both songs got a lot of play on MTV, which further boosted Mellencamp’s growing popularity.
The following year, Mellencamp had another hit with Uh-Huh (1983). The album had three successful singles, “Crumblin’ Down,” “Pink Houses,” and “Authority Song.” After years of being panned by critics, Mellencamp started to win them over with such recordings as Scarecrow (1985). The widely acclaimed album featured a mixture of styles, from the uptempo “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A (A Salute to 60s Rock)” to the more introspective “Small Town” to stormy dirge “Rain on the Scarecrow,” which explored the plight of the family farmer. This subject was especially close to his heart, having been one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, an organization dedicated to supporting American family farms. Working with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, Mellencamp helped organize the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 and has worked actively on the charity’s behalf ever since.
Mellencamp continued to mature as an artist with his next recording, The Lonesome Jubilee (1987), which featured some experimentation with a more folk rock sound. Three tracks from the album—“Paper in Fire,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “Check It Out”—reached the top 20 of the pop charts. During the coming years, his albums remained strong sellers, but he had fewer singles that made it onto the charts. Big Daddy (1989) had the self-satirizing hit “Pop Singer” while Whenever We Wanted (1991) contained “Get a Leg Up.” For Mellencamp, making the video for “Get a Leg Up” turn out to be a life-changing event. During the filming, he met model Elaine Irwin whom he started dating. The couple married in 1992.
Around this time, Mellencamp tried his hand at acting. He starred as a country music singer in the drama Falling from Grace (1992), which he also directed. The screenplay was written by famed western novelist Larry McMurtry.
With Dance Naked (1994), Mellencamp made a triumphant return to the pop singles charts with a duet with Meshell Ndegéocello. Their hit, “Wild Night,” was a cover of a song by Van Morrison. That same year, Mellencamp had to cancel his tour plans after suffering a heart attack. This health crisis led to some changes in his lifestyle. “I didn’t work out at all until I had the heart attack,” he told People magazine. Mellencamp cut back on his tour schedule and started running and doing weight training.
Trying out some hip-hop beats, Mellencamp worked with dance music producer Junior Vasquez on Mr. Happy Go Lucky (1996). He later experimented with the blues for 2003’s Trouble No More.
After a few years away from the recording studio, Mellencamp returned with Freedom’s Road (2007), which reached as high as number five on the album charts. In 2008, he found his music caught up in the midst of the election-year politics.
A well-known Democratic supporter, Mellencamp had his representatives ask Republican candidate John McCain to stop playing his songs “Our Country” and “Pink Houses” during his rallies, according to People magazine.
Also in 2008, Mellencamp was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His 2008 album, Life, Death, Love and Freedom, was released to stellar reviews and a strong showing on the album charts.
In September 1992, Mellencamp married model Elaine Irwin, with whom he had two sons: Hud and Speck. After nearly 18 years of marriage, in 2010, the couple announced that they were splitting. Their divorce was finalized in August 2011.
Mellencamp has been dating actress Meg Ryan since early 2011.