John Mellencamp
Cuttin' Heads
"Hey, I'm just  like you/
Yeah, I've done some good and I've done some bad/
But the most  fun that I ever had/
was singing my songs for you."
-- John  Mellencamp, "In Our Lives"

John Mellencamp has recorded some of the most powerful American anthems of the  last two decades. The singer-songwriter-producer is also an actor,  critically-acclaimed painter, and is preparing an upcoming musical stage  production written in collaboration with his friend Stephen King. During his  17-album, 25-year career, he has also continued to bring a certain rock 'n' roll  ethos--what's literally become known as "Heartland Rock"--to the rest of the  world.

Cuttin' Heads, Mellencamp's new Columbia Records release,  continues this fine legacy with the artist's critical examination of the America  he loves and writes about (a tradition that dates back to at least "Pink Houses"  and the classic Scarecrow album) still wrapped up in wonderful archetypal rock  'n' roll melodies and riffs--one eye on the present, and one eye always on a  glorious past.
"I listened to very few records while I was making this  album," says this longtime classic rock historian and aficionado. "I listened to  Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones.  And I listened to Dylan."

Those influences, which Mellencamp has  perfected throughout his career, are certainly all reflected musically on the  new album--"Crazy Island," in fact, is a tremendous compendium of classic  American instrumentation (from Appalachian fiddle and accordion to hard electric  guitar). But Cuttin' Heads delivers it all with a decidedly contemporary edge, a  fact that's immediately noticeable on the funk-driven opening title track,  featuring a wonderful rap by Chuck D, one of three special guests on Cuttin'  Heads. The Public Enemy leader's words jump from James Brown to Led Zeppelin's  appropriation of the blues in the first two lines alone, highlighting a song  that addresses a recurring theme in Mellencamp's art and one appropriate for a  guy who started out singing in a James Brown cover band in Indiana: namely, the  problem of racism in America.

"The way that song came about was through  a conversation I had with [longtime backing vocalist] Pat Peterson. When we were  in Florida recording the first version of this album (those versions were  eventually scrapped and mostly re-recorded at his Bloomington hometown studio,  the Belmont Mall), we were listening to a rap hip-hop band that was having a lot  of success at the time. And Pat turned up her nose at it. I was just listening  to the rhythm, and I asked her, 'What is so offensive about this?'  She pointed  out the lyrical content, and then she went into a long conversation about how  this is hurting their race and all the people who've died and suffered. And now  these kids are selling it out, whether they think it's a term of endearment or  not. And then white kids in the suburbs listen and think it's OK. A perfect  example, she pointed out, was the most recent Woodstock, when the guy came out  asking, 'How's my niggas?' Well, there wasn't hardly a black person at that  place! And even if there was...."

As for Chuck D's involvement? "We were  looking around for someone who hadn't sold-out. He was the only guy who hadn't  done that, refused to do it, and thought that it was wrong. So after talking on  the phone, [things just clicked]. Chuck has a vision, and he stays connected to  it. He won't do--I hate to say this--a 'Stepin Fetchit' (a character created,  first for vaudeville, later for films in the late 1920s-1930s, by African  American comedic actor Lincoln Perry) routine for the money."
Yet, Cuttin'  Heads isn't as overtly political as the opening track. Nashville legend Trisha  Yearwood (who performs Mellencamp's classic "Small Town" in her live shows) adds  her vocals to the beautiful "Deep Blue Heart," one of several new love songs on  the album, adding, explains Mellencamp, the same feel that Emmylou Harris  brought to Dylan's legendary Desire album. "Women Seem" is a comical look at the  eternal war between the sexes; "Worn Out Nervous Condition" was one of the songs  inspired by the artist's recent heavy infatuation with Ray Davies and the early  Kinks; "Shy" is about, um, premature ejaculation and was written "...following a  conversation me and a few macho guys had after watching 'Oprah Winfrey' on the  subject." Mellencamp laughs. "I can write about anything? which is why I never  get writer's block and everything I write isn't necessarily autobiographical."

Mellencamp says he recorded Cuttin' Heads several times before it  finally met his exacting approval, and even though he once again took on the  producer role, he ultimately called in old friend Don Gehman to help mix the  final version, marking the first time the dynamic duo have worked together since  1987's The Lonesome Jubilee. "For the first time in 15 years, I could actually  walk out of the studio and take a break and not worry what was going on,"  Mellencamp chuckles. He also credits longtime guitarist Andy York as one of the  major forces behind Cuttin' Heads. "The two of us really made this record," John  explains. "Andy played instruments he didn't even know he could play--steel  pedal, bass on half the tracks. It was out of necessity--because it was either  me or him. Once we were done with drums and basic tracks"--which included  Mellencamp's phenomenal touring band as well as session superstars like drummer  Steve Jordan and bassist Willie Weeks--"it was me on acoustic guitar and Andy  would follow along. That's how we came up with the arrangements."

Although the new album's 10 tracks were written and recorded over the  last two years, Cuttin' Heads arrives at a pivotal moment in American (and  world) history--and certainly "Peaceful World," the album's beautiful first  single, takes on a more poignant and timely tone in light of the events of  September 11, 2001. In fact, Mellencamp discovered that Boston radio stations  were playing the song as a "theme of healing," which is why the artist decided  to bus back to the U.S. from Canada for a scheduled show in Boston two days  after the tragedy. There is a comforting feel to the song's gorgeous melody,  peace-loving theme (which, again, addresses the scourge of racism--an even more  pressing topic following a recent rash of "hate" crimes in the U.S.), and the  soothing duet vocals of the album's third guest artist, the Motown vocalist  India.Arie.

"I wanted a young soulful person on it," he says. "I didn't  care at first if it was male or female, to tell you the truth. But you start  looking at some of these younger women, and there's too much booty call going  on. When I heard her and saw her perform, though, she seemed perfect. If handled  properly, I think she could be a huge voice in young popular culture right now.  There are so many variables, of course, but I knew that her soul sounded right."  "Peaceful World" or a Mellencamp line like "How can things go so wrong in such a  beautiful world?" on "Just Like You" take on new meaning in light of the  tragedy--but Mellencamp says it was another song that spoke to him following the  bombings. "The song that actually made the most sense to me after that was  'Crazy Island.'" He quotes the lyric: "'You hold no responsibility in the land  of easy millions.' These songs were written a long time [before the tragedy], so  I'm not doing anything here I haven't done a thousand times before, which is to  ask people to look at themselves. I care deeply for America, but I'm not a  spokesman for America. 'Pink Houses' was the exact same thing? questioning the  values we have, although people have misinterpreted it throughout the years. And  that's OK, too, if it works on that level.  But I've always just been saying,  'Let's take a look at ourselves and examine things a little bit.'

"I've  always preferred to take a questioning view of a situation , but then wrap it up  the way America likes thing wrapped up with a nice little bow," says Mellencamp.  "Frank Zappa said 'Everything is displayed nicely in America.' I read that when  I was, like, 17, and it always stuck with me. But, of course, when you open it  up, what's inside is not always so great."  Of course, Mellencamp's patriotic  spirit has been evident in his humanitarian efforts--his drives to aid the  America farmer via co-organizing Farm Aid, his work with handicapped and  autistic children, the way his music soothed troubled souls over the years  (witness his free "Good Samaritan Tour" of the summer of 2000 during which  Mellencamp delivered free acoustic performances in major downtown public spaces,  attracting audiences of more than 20,000 when the shows were announced an hour  before they started). Cuttin' Heads is yet another strong chapter in this  brilliant legacy.

"You know, rock music can change a person," he says.   "It can change an outlook. That's how music works. But the bigger notion that  music can change countries and change the world, I don't believe that. That's  too tall an order. It can change a moment in a person's life--and that seems  important enough."

John Mellencamp Fact Sheet

Since the release of John Cougar in August 1979, Mellencamp has  scored more than 11 Top 10 and 29 Top 40 singles.  He has been awarded 36 gold,  platinum, and multi-platinum record awards in addition to eleven Grammy  nominations (1982, '84, '85, '86, '87, '88, '91, '94, '96, and '97) and received  the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance in 1982.

John Mellencamp has  been named the recipient of the 2001 Billboard Century Award, Billboard  magazine's highest accolade for distinguished creative achievement.   Mellencamp  joins fellow Century Award honorees George Harrison (1992), Buddy Guy (1993),  Billy Joel (1994), Joni Mitchell (1995), Carlos Santana (1996), Chet Atkins  (1997), James Taylor (1998), Emmylou Harris (1999), and Randy Newman (2000).   Mellencamp is scheduled to receive this honor in December 2001 during the  Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas.

 "I like what this particular award  stands for," says Mellencamp of the honor. "When they called me say I was  receiving it, I was told it's for artists who really did not get the credit they  deserved. And I liked that because I've always felt like an underdog, which is  why I've probably remained competitive. Early on, I was always dismissed as,  'Well, he's a Midwestern rocker.' That would always piss me off, so this award  means a lot."

John Mellencamp was featured in both the murder-mystery  film "After Image," which premiered at Cannes and the Sundance Film Festival,  and in the indie production "Madison"--which is narrated by Mellencamp, stars  Jim Caviezel, and also premiered at Sundance.  Additionally, John has completed  his role in the feature "Lone Star State of Mind," starring with Joshua Jackson  and James King, scheduled for a 2002 release.   John Mellencamp made his screen  and directorial debut in "Falling From Grace" in 1992.  In "Falling From Grace,"  written by Larry McMurtry, Mellencamp portrays a country music star who returns  to his native Indiana to try to reestablish a normal life.

John  Mellencamp is currently collaborating on a project with long-time friend Stephen  King, based on an original concept by Mellencamp about an American family.   Stephen King is writing the book, while Mellencamp will compose the music for  the upcoming theatrical musical production, scheduled for 2002.

In  August 2000, John kicked off his "Good Samaritan Tour."  Equipped only with  battery-powered amplifiers and an acoustic guitar, fiddle and accordion, John  and two fellow musicians performed free concerts in downtown public spaces.  Starting in Philadelphia, they traveled to Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland,  Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, and Bloomington, Indiana.  Each  performance was announced just hours before start time and attracted audiences  of more than 20,000 people.

In November 1999, HarperCollins published  Mellencamp: Paintings and Reflections, a book showcasing 75 of John Mellencamp's  artworks.  He continues to pursue his avocation as a painter.
John  Mellencamp, along with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, was instrumental in  organizing the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois. Since September  22, 1985, there have been fifteen annual Farm Aid concerts with all artists  appearing and performing at their own expense.  John Mellencamp was awarded the  NARAS President's Merit Award for his work on Farm Aid.
John Mellencamp has  received the prestigious Nordoff-Robbins Silver Clef Award for his involvement  with musical therapy for handicapped and autistic children.

John J.  Mellencamp was born in Seymour, Indiana, and has been in rock bands since the  fifth grade.  Mellencamp got his first recording deal after graduating from  Vincennes University.



Cuttin' Heads 2001
Rough Harvest 1999
John  Mellencamp 1998
The Best That I Could Do: 1978-1988 1997
Mr. Happy Go  Lucky 1996
Dance Naked 1994
Human Wheels 1993
Whenever We Wanted  1991
Big Daddy 1989
The Lonesome Jubilee 1987
Scarecrow 1985
Uh-Huh 1983
American Fool 1982
Nothing Matters And What If It Did  1980
John Cougar 1979
The Kid Inside 1978
A Biography (released in  the UK and Australia)  1978
Chestnut Street Incident 1976


"I Need A Lover"  1979
"Ain't Even Done With The Night"     1980
"This Time" 1980
"Jack & Diane"   1982
"Hurt So Good" 1982
"Hand To Hold On To" 1982
"Crumblin' Down" 1983
"Pink Houses" 1984
"Authority Song"   1984
"Lonely Ol' Night"  1985
"Small Town"  1985
"R.O.C.K. In The USA"  1986
"Rain On The Scarecrow"       1986
"Rumbleseat"   1986
"Paper In Fire"  1987
"Cherry Bomb"  1987
"Check It Out"    1988
"Pop Singer" 1989
"Get A Leg Up"  1991
"Again Tonight" 1992
"Wild Night"  1994
"Key West Intermezzo (I Saw  You First)" 1996

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