Dave Cobb, Gena Johnson Detail John Prine’s Final Recording, “I Remember Everything”

John Prine

On June 11, Nashville’s music community was still reeling from the death of one of its shining lights and musical poets, John Prine, who died in April at age 73 due to complications related to COVID-19. That evening, artists including Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Sturgill Simpson, Bonnie Raitt, Margo Price and Kacey Musgraves participated in a livestream concert, offering performances of their favorite Prine classics from their homes, as thousands across the country tuned in to pay tribute to the giver of classics such as “Angel From Montgomery” and “Sam Stone.”

As the evening drew to a close, the fitting coda was Prine’s own warm, intimate voice, as his final recorded song, “I Remember Everything,” was officially released.

The week of June 23, after decades of winning accolades including Grammys, American Music Awards, Americana honors, and an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Prine added one more bittersweet, posthumous accolade, as “I Remember Everything” became Prine’s first No. 1 song on a Billboard chart, debuting atop the Rock Digital Song Sales chart.

“He had played that for us around Thanksgiving last year,” recalls producer Dave Cobb, who captured Prine’s performance of the song alongside engineer Gena Johnson. “We were with John and his family and friends at his house and he pulled out his guitar. He was excited about the next album and that was just him playing a new song he wrote. It certainly wasn’t meant to be the last song he wrote. We had plans to go into the studio this summer, which is terribly sad. He was like a 15-year-old excited to play us his new song.”

Prine co-wrote the song alongside longtime collaborator Pat McLaughlin. Johnson and Cobb captured Prine’s recording of the song a few months later, in the same cozy home where Cobb first heard it, setting up a few simple microphones in Prine’s living room, with Prine accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. Cobb and Johnson stopped by Prine’s house around 10:30 in the evening, just after Cobb had finished a different session.

“I think he was on tour and had some health issues and had to come back home,” Cobb recalls. “His wife Fiona called and said they wanted to capture the song while it was fresh. It was very informal and it was really more documenting the song. They were going to make a documentary about him so we were literally just going by to capture the song. John is one of the few people with the ability to play a new song and it feels timeless, like you’ve always known it. It feels like it could have been on his first record in a way.”

The song reads as one taking stock of the moments, faces and spaces that have given purpose and meaning throughout their life.

I remember every town and every hotel room/every song I ever sang on a guitar out of tune. I remember everything/ things I can’t forget, Prine sings.

“I just thought it was one of the songs we were going to put on his next album—not his last album,” Cobb recalls. “He was cutting up and cracking jokes, just typical John Prine.”

“It was basically one take,” Johnson says of the recording session. “I got there early to set up and John did a couple of run-throughs just to warm up before we recorded. With John, it was like, every single thing he sang was cool.

“His love for Fiona was the biggest thing,” Johnson continues. “There’s the line, And I remember every night/ Your ocean eyes of blue. I remember when he sang that line, he just looked up at Fiona and smiled. That was really special,” Johnson recalls.

“I definitely had tears in my eyes,” she recalls learning of song’s chart-topping success. “I never thought I would be in his living room, recording the very last thing he recorded. I teared up when I was recording the song because you are in the presence of somebody that means so much to so many people, but there’s also the way he made you feel as an individual.

“It was heavy when he passed. I definitely took it hard and immediately thought of Fiona and the boys and how they have made me feel like family from day one, when I was working on [Prine’s 2018 Grammy-nominated album] The Tree of Forgiveness. Seeing that [chart success] happen was beautiful to watch.”

“He was full of life, and funny and happy to see people. I have no words for how much joy that guy had. He loved his family, his friends, his career—and the mustard he kept in his suitcase,” Cobb said.

Prine is posthumously nominated for Artist of the Year at the 2020 Americana Honors & Awards, set for Sept. 16 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Prine previously won the Artist of the Year honor in 2005, 2017 and 2018. During his career, he took home three additional Americana honors, including Album of the Year in 2019 for The Tree of Forgiveness, Song of the Year for “Summer’s End” (2019), and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting (2003).

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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