Legendary Chicago born singer-songwriter John Prine owes his new lease of life to the recently deceased Sun Records pioneer Sam Phillips.
Prine, now 56, met Sam in 1979 when he was making rockabilly album 'Pink Cadillac' at Sam Phillips Studios in Memphis, with his Chicago-based band.Prine recruited Phillips' sons Knox and Jerry as producers."
We had been working on the record for a couple of months," Prine revealed recently from Ireland."
From what I understood, Sam was on his way to the bank. He passed by the studio and saw the lights on and was wondering what was going on."
I was out at the moment and they played him something I sang. He thought my voice was so horrible that he would stick around until I showed up so he could fix it."
I get back to the studio, and here's Sam Phillips sitting in the control room. All the band is there, and they're whispering, 'He's in there! He's in there!'
"I went in there, and Sam was larger than life."
THROAT CANCER SURGERY
Fast forward to late 1997 when Prine was diagnosed with throat cancer. Knox Phillips had been diagnosed with a similar cancer and called Prine."
I was in the middle of choosing a doctor," the full recovered Prine recalled, "I had gone to five or six doctors, and each one said a different thing. I was very confused about the whole cancer thing, and that's all Knox wanted to talk about. Knox and Sam went all over the world to find the best specialist, and they found him in Houston, Texas. But Knox didn't get through to me. He could tell I was irritated when we got off the phone.
"So the next morning I get a call from Sam. I hadn't talked to Sam in about 10 years. Well, Sam talked and talked to me until I said, 'Yes, sir, Mr. Phillips, I will go to Houston, Texas.'
In the end, he told me if I didn't go, he was going to come to Nashville, and kick my ass every inch of the way to Houston to see these people. Of course, it turned out Sam and Knox couldn't have been more right."
In 1999, Sam Phillips saw Prine when his concert tour with Iris DeMent stopped in Memphis."I thanked Sam," Prine said. "I said, 'You basically saved my life.' I wouldn't listen to anybody else. I was too stubborn. But I wasn't about to not listen to Sam Phillips."
STEVE YOUNG - ALSO A SURVIVOR
Prine, who shared his previous career as a postie with Georgia born country rock pioneer Steve Young, toured here in 1993.
He performed solo at the famed Hanging Rock racecourse and survived the summer chill in February to record 16 albums. Ironically Young, now 62, first recorded with Phillips protégé Cowboy Jack Clement in Texas in 1959.
He toured here in 1999 to promote his 12th album 'Primal Young' which won worldwide release through Melbourne record label Shock.
Young was born in Newnan - the same home town as superstar Alan Jackson - and wrote the Waylon Jennings 1972 album title track, 'Lonesome, Ornery & Mean.'
And now that's the title track of the first of two tribute albums to Jennings who died at 64 on February 13, 2002.
Members of 'The Byrds' and 'Flying Burrito Brothers' played on Young's debut solo album. 'Rock, Salt & Nails' in 1969.
So it's no surprise that Young played on a single by former Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers bassist Skip Battin who died at 69 on July 6.
Although Battin was major figure in the birth of country rock he died with hardly a mention in the world media. We will try to remedy that here.
Country rock pioneer Clyde Battin was dogged by his stage name for his entire career - because of an absent-minded producer. When cutting a duet project the producer forgot the names of Battin and his partner so he dubbed them 'Skip & Flip' after his pet poodles.
The name stuck for Skip who was best known for his work with 'The Byrds,' 'Flying Burrito Brothers' and 'New Riders Of The Purple Sage.' But the charismatic character would have remembered little of that in the years before his death.
The singer-songwriter and bassist suffered Alzeimers disease for several years before dying in a clinic on July 6. His long-time girlfriend-carer, Peggy Taylor, was with him at the end and son, Brent, spoke with him over the phone late in the afternoon.
NAME TREE WITH BIZARRE BRANCHES
Clyde Skip Battin was born on February 18th, 1934 in Gallapolis, Ohio, and learned piano, fiddle and guitar before joining 'Earl Mock & The Mockingbirds' in 1955.
In 1956 he met Gary Paxton and formed 'The Pledges' and released 'Betty Jean' before changing to 'Chuck And The Chuckles' and 'Clyde Gary Orchestra' for other singles. Skip cut 'The Twister' as his first solo single in 1959 before they became Skip & Flip.
Although they never made an album a compilation, 'The Very Best Of Skip & Flip' - 1957-61 was released by Collectable Records in 1998. In October 1960 Skip was a member of 'The Prehistorics' and released other singles as the Skip Battin Combo, 'Skip & The Hustlers' and 'Skip & The Flips.'
He also worked with Kim Fowley and they recorded as 'Kim & The Skippers' in 1965.
Skip Battin and Al Rosenberg formed the Evergreen Blueshoes, featuring later day Nitty Gritty Dirt Band luminary Jimmy Ibbotson, and released two singles and the album 'The Ballad Of Evergreen Blueshoes.'
He also formed founded 'Skip Batten & The Group' in 1965 and released a 1967 single with guitarist and latter day legend Steve Young and pianist Van Dyke Parks on vocal harmonies.
SKIP FLIES WITH THE BYRDS
Battin played on Warren Zevon's debut disc 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' in 1969 and was head hunted for 'The Byrds' by Clarence White with whom he had jammed in 1968.
Skip cut three albums with The Byrds from 1970-3 - the 1970 disc 'Untitled' was re-released in 2001 as 'Untitled/Unissued.' Battin wrote 'Yesterday's Train' with Gene Parsons, 'You All Look Alike' and the anti-Vietnam war tune 'We'll Come Back Home.' 'Byrdmaniax,' released in June 1971, had three Battin songs - 'Tunnel Of Love,' 'Citizen Kane' and 'Absolute Happiness.' Next album, 'Farther Along,' also featured Battin-Fowley tune 'America's Great National Pastime,' 'Precious Kate' and 'Lazy Waters'.
Chris Hillman replaced Skip in The Byrds in 1973 so he cut his first solo album 'Skip' in 1973 with Clarence White on guitar.
The singles included two co-writes with Fowley - 'Central Park', backed with 'The St. Louis Browns' and 'The Ballad Of Dick Clark' in stereo and mono.
The sequel, at the end of 1973, should have been 'Topanga Skyline.'
But the energy crisis, with a shortage of vinyl, persuaded the record company to can the album."
Clarence was killed two days before the beginning of the recordings," Battin revealed.
"He had rehearsed with us."
It was at the funeral of White, killed by a drunk driver at 29 on July 14, 1973, that Gram Parsons and tour manager Phil Kaufman made a famous death pact.
Parsons, just 26, died two months later on September of a heroin OD and Kaufman and little Aussie mate Michael Martin stole his body from Van Nuys airport and burned it in the desert at Joshua Tree.
NEW RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE
It was ironic that Battin's next band was 'New Riders of The Purple Sage' with whom he cut three albums from 1974-6.'Brujo' in 1974 featured four Battin-Fowley tunes - 'Big Wheels,' 'Singing Cowboys,' 'On The Amazon' and 'Neon Rose.' Battin also performed on 'Live On Stage' in 1975, belatedly released in 1993, and had one song 'Strangers On A Train' on their 1975 disc 'Oh What A Mighty Time.'
As he finished recording that disc in 1976 he joined the 'Flying Burrito Brothers' and played on their album 'Airborne.' When the band split after a nine month stint by Battin he decided to retire to become a farmer but was lured out of retirement on December 2, 1977, when they reformed.
The band - including Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Gib Guilbeau, Robb Strandlund and John Maucery - cut a live album in Japan.
'Close Encounters From The West Coast' was re-released as 'Live From Tokyo.' The band changed its named to the 'Burrito Brothers' in September 1979 and added John Beland to the line-up.
Battin played on demos at Criterion Music in Hollywood which were released in 1990 as 'Hollywood Nights 1979-1982.' Although he was on the cover of the group's debut album for Curb Records, 'Hearts On The Line' he was not involved in the recordings.
Battin was fired from the Burritos in 1981 when he cut another solo album 'Navigator.'
DON'T GO CRAZY
At the end of 1983 he released his third solo album 'Don't Go Crazy' which featured three songs from the unreleased 'Topanga Canyon' disc.
Skip Battin formed 'Peace Seekers' with Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Greg Harris, Gene Parsons and Ed Ponder.
In 1985 Skip, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Greg Harris and Jim Goodall revived 'Flying Burrito Brothers' and released Cabin Fever in 1985 and three live albums made in Europe.
Skip joined Michael Clarke's version of The Byrds in 1987 and left in 1991.
After the death of Clarke, the group became 'Byrds Celebration' - Terry Rogers, Skip Battin, Gene Parsons and Scott Nienhaus.
They recorded an album 'Empty Room' as the Rogers/Nienhaus Band in 1996 but Skip left in 1997 and announced his retirement from music.
Battin's death received little media exposure here or overseas but his music lives on.