LifeNotes: Producer/Guitarist John Jennings Passes

John Jennings. Photo: Clark Thomas

John Jennings. Photo: Clark Thomas

Producer, guitarist and recording artist John Jennings, best known for his work with Mary Chapin Carpenter, died on Saturday, Oct. 17 at age 62. A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Jennings was diagnosed with metastatic kidney cancer in March 2014. He wrote a song about his health struggle at the time titled “I Believe Love Will Save My Life.”

As a young musician in the D.C. clubs, Jennings was introduced to the then-unknown Mary Chapin Carpenter by The Starland Vocal Band’s Bill Danoff (the writer of its hit “Afternoon Delight” and co-writer of “Take Me Home Country Roads”).

Jennings and Carpenter began performing shows together. They recorded an album to sell at their shows in 1986. It was picked up by Columbia Records in Nashville and released as Hometown Girl in 1987.

He co-produced all of Carpenter’s subsequent Nashville efforts, including nearly a dozen Top 10 country hits. These records garnered five CMA Awards and five Grammy Awards. Jennings and Carpenter co-wrote her singles “Never Had It So Good” (1989) and “Going Out Tonight” (1991).

John Jennings has also produced albums for Janis Ian, John Gorka, Robin & Linda Williams, Bill Morrissey, The Rankin Family and Beausoleil. He lived in Nashville for several years, beginning in 1993. As a guitarist, he has played on albums by The Indigo Girls, Iris DeMent, Kathy Mattea, Cheryl Wheeler, George Jones, Joe Diffie, Ricky Skaggs, Darol Anger and Tony Rice. In addition, he has recorded the solo albums Buddy (1997), I Belong to You (1998), More Noise From Nowhere (2001), Four (2005), It’s All Good (2007) and Everybody Sing in 2010.

Born in Luray, Va., in 1953, John Jennings was a self-taught guitarist who began forming bands when he was in the sixth grade. At high school in Falls Church, Va., he played in a number of teen rock bands. Following his graduation in 1973, he played in folk, rock and pop groups. He also did some ad-jingle writing. He was an early member of the hard-rock group Pentagram.

As a result of his success with Mary Chapin Carpenter, he won more than 20 Wammie Awards (Washington Area Music Association). In 1998, he was elected president of the D.C. chapter of The Recording Academy.

Because of his illness, he withdrew from touring with Carpenter last year.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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