Web Exclusive—John Mellencamp: Hillbilly Rocker

John Mellencamp sounds off on his biggest country influence, drinking and the Dixie Chicks.

In the July 30 issue of Country Weekly you’ll find a compelling article on rock legend John Mellencamp, who recently enjoyed his first country hit with “Our Country.” Here are a few additional excerpts from our interview with John.

ON HIS BIGGEST COUNTRY INFLUENCE:
“Are you kidding me? Hank Williams. My record collection when I was a kid was the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams. Hank Williams and I had something in common: He had spina bifida, and I had spina bifida. His spina bifida was down in the lower part of his back, and mine was up here [pointing toward his upper back]. I had my first successful operation for spina bifida in 1951. He had a lot of problems with his spine, and I haven’t had any.”

ON THE DIXIE CHICKS:
“This is just my opinion. I don’t think there was much problem with what they said—it’s their stage, they should say what they want without repercussion. It was just the wrong time. If I would have said that exact same thing, nobody would have cared. You know why? I’ve made 21 albums. I’ve been around a long time. When you’re a young band that’s considered more right of center than left, and all of a sudden you say something like that, people go, ‘Oh, I had no idea!’ I think it was the shock. But it’s fantastic that they have the ability to say what they wanted to say, and they seem to have weathered the storm.”

ON HIS CLASSIC SOUND:
“When I first started out, everybody wanted me to be Neil Diamond. I made a record called American Fool [1982]. It had ‘Hurts So Good,’ ‘Jack and Diane,’ ‘Hand to Hold On To’ and all these songs on there, but [the record label] hated all of them because they didn’t sound polite. I remember the president of Mercury Records looking at me and saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. This sounds like it was made in a garage.’ I said, ‘Exactly.’ He said, ‘No, no, no—you need to put some horns or something on this to smooth this out, so you sound more like Neil Diamond.’ I thought, ‘I’m in trouble. What they want me to do and what I want to do are pretty far away.’”

ON MEETING LEGENDARY POOL PLAYER MINNESOTA FATS DURING HIS FIRST VISIT TO NASHVILLE:
“It was ’76 or ’77. He asked me to play him, and I thought, ‘I’m gonna go play pool with Minnesota Fats? How much money am I gonna lose?’ So I declined, but looking back 30 years later, I wish I’d done it. How great would it be to say I shot pool with Minnesota Fats?”

ON DRINKING:
“The last time I was drunk was 1971. I got tired of getting the hell beat out of me. It was pretty simple. A little bit of whiskey and I thought I could beat up anybody. I became delusional. After a couple of good ass-beatings, I quit drinking.”

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