John Prine Talks Rock Hall Nominations: 'The Zombies Should Go in Before Me'

John Prine
Jason Davis/Getty Images for Americana Music Association

John Prine performs onstage during the 2018 Americana Music Honors and Awards at Ryman Auditorium on Sept. 12, 2018 in Nashville.

With apologies to Groucho Marx, John Prine will be happy to be a member of any club that might have him -- especially if it's the Songwriters or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The veteran composer of "Angel From Montgomery" and so many others has been nominated for induction into both shrines, with voting currently going on -- all on the heels of the April release of The Tree of Forgiveness, Prine's first new album in 13 years. "It's been quite a year," Prine tells Billboard. "The (halls of fame), those things are pretty darned neat just to get nominated for. I know there's lots of people who have been waiting years to just get in. Truly, the nominations are good enough. I haven't been nominated before for these particular organizations. I don't know if I'll get in the first year or not."   

The Songwriters Hall of Fame, of course, holds special meaning for Prine, who began writing songs as a teenager. "It's kind of my getaway from the world," he explains. "I found it easier to make up songs than to learn other people's songs." In addition to his own recordings over the years Prine has had his songs recorded by Bonnie Raitt, David Allan Coe, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash and scores of others. "The Songwriters Hall of fame, that's the one all the big-time writers get into, the really great stuff, the Broadway stuff and all that," Prine says. "That would be something, to get your name in there."

And while the idea of Prine in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may raise some eyebrows, he's comfortable with the idea. "I started out in the folk music world only because of the way my songs were written and performed, with just an acoustic guitar, but I always related to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle," he explains. "So that'd be great to be in there, no matter what year they want to put me in." Prine does add, however, that, "I think the Zombies should go in before me."

While he waits for the results -- the Rock Hall during early December, the Songwriters Hall in early 2019 -- he's enjoying the success of The Tree of Forgiveness. The 10-song set features guest appearances by Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlile, and songwriting collaborations with Dan Auerbach, Pat McLaughlin and Phil Spector; It gave Prine his highest ever chart positions, including No. 5 on the Billboard 200, No. 1 on the Folk Albums chart and No. 2 on the Country, Rock and Indie charts. He doesn't plan to take another 13 years to put out another album, but Prine won't be able to get a follow-up going until his current wave of success dies down.

"We've been on the road pretty much constant since April," he says. "As soon as they let me off the road I'll start to think about what I want to do next."