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John Mellencamp Biography

John Mellencamp is an American singer-songwriter, musician and an exponent of heartland rock known for hit singles such as Hurts So Good, R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A., and Cherry Bomb.

Early Life

John J Mellencamp was born in Seymour, Indiana, on October 7, 1951. A teenager, he formed his band Crepe Soul and played in bands like Trash, Snakepit Banana Barn, and the Mason Brothers. He was already a father at 19 and a drug user, but that did not stop him from finishing college and moving to New York to pursue music full-time.

Career Beginnings

Starting out as Johnny Cougar and taking on the Bruce Springsteen image, he released a self-titled album in 1976. John was then signed to MainMan/MCA Records and released Chestnut Street Incident. Dropped by the label due to bad sales, John started building and developing his own sound of hard rock and folk-rock.


American Fool represented his breakthrough and became a commercial and critical success. It became a number 1 album and spawned hits like Hurts So Good and Jack and Diane. He was finally able to take his own name now and issued Uh-Huh as John Cougar Mellencamp. It was not as successful as its predecessor but Mellencamp still supported Uh-Huh with a headlining tour. Scarecrow was the album that was finally taken seriously as it showed John’s social consciousness and musical diversity. As a result, it became his biggest project so far. He became involved in social causes and refused sponsorship from tobacco and alcohol companies. In 1987, John released the country inspired The Lonesome Jubilee, peaking at number 6. Big Daddy was released two years later, receiving good reviews but did not produce any hit singles. The next period was less successful with albums like Whenever We Wanted in 1991 and Human Wheels in 1993. Dance Naked was his comeback as it reached gold certification.

Setback and Reemergence

Before Mellencamp could embark on a tour, he suffered a heart attack and had to cancel it. He re-emerged in 1996 with the dance-inspired Mr. Happy Go Lucky. John changed labels and released the self-eponymous LP in 1998, followed by a collection of unreleased material called Rough Harvest. Cuttin’ Heads spawned the hit single Peaceful World and he was given the Billboard Century Award for his impressive career. In 2003, he issued the tribute cover album Trouble No More which topped the Billboard Blues chart. After a string of different albums, John released the critically acclaimed  No Better Than This in 2010. In 2014, Republic Records offered Mellencamp a lifetime contract and revealed the studio LP Plain Spoken. He struck a good friendship with songwriter Carlene Carter and released the duet album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies in April 2017.

Photo credit: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame