Mellencamp never allowed his music to be used in commercials until he made a deal with Chevrolet to use his song "Our Country
" in a 2006 advertising campaign. Mellencamp's reasoning was that music industry consolidation had forced quality songs off the airwaves, and using songs in commercials would be the best way to reach an audience.
His manager, Tony DeFries, gave him the name "Johnny Cougar." He started using "John Cougar Mellencamp" in the early '80s and eventually dropped the "Cougar." DeFries is the same guy who persuaded David Jones to change his name to David Bowie.
In 1985, he turned down Live Aid, but helped organize the first Farm Aid benefit concert, becoming a regular performer at the event.
He married the model Elaine Irwin in 1992, and had two sons with her, Hud and Speck, before separating in 2010. They met on the set of his video for "Get A Leg Up."
He is a talented painter, and almost became an artist. After graduating from Vincennes University, a two-year school in Indiana, he took a trip to New York to check out the Art Students League, where he considered taking some classes. On the trip, he dropped off demo tapes at record companies and management companies; before heading back to Indiana, he got a call from one of the management agencies that wanted to take him on, and he took the offer. "For a 21-year-old guy fresh out of college, money coming in was better than money going out," he said.
He didn't give up on painting - one of his paintings hangs in the Governor's Mansion in Indiana.
He was born with Spina bifida, a condition where the spine is not fully formed. At the time, most kids born that way didn't live very long, but Mellencamp was one of four kids who underwent experimental surgery at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, which saved his life (the other three didn't make it).
He didn't know about any of this until he was 11 years old and a kid at school pointed out the huge scar on the back of his neck. His father explained that he had an operation when he was an infant, but didn't make a big deal out of it. The condition did keep him out of the Vietnam War, as it exempted him from the draft.
As a teenager, Mellencamp was rebellious, often getting in trouble with the law. He formed his first band at the age of 14, and continued to play throughout his teens. When he was 18, he eloped with Priscilla Esterline, his pregnant girlfriend, and tried to support his family by working a series of blue-collar jobs. By the time he was 24, he decided to move to New York City and try to break into the music industry.
Esterline was 24 when they wed - she was the grown-up in the relationship, with a job, a car, and a college degree. She did most of the work raising their daughter, Michelle. "I wasn't much of a parent back then," Mellencamp said.
Stevie Lee - WSFR, Louisville, KY
He is a 1972 graduate of Seymour High School in Indiana. He went on to Vincennes University in Vincennes, Indiana (next to the Wabash river) to pursue a degree in broadcasting. He used to walk around barefoot and shirtless playing his guitar.
Pete - Louisville, KY
Songwriting is something he learned over time. "I didn't want to write songs," he said in his Plain Spoken DVD. "What do we need another songwriter for? I showed zero interest or potential in being a songwriter when I first started making records."
In 1988, he became a grandfather at age 37 when his 18-year-old daughter, Michelle, had a little girl.
In 2008, he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame along with The Dave Clark Five, The Ventures, Leonard Cohen and Madonna.
Bertrand - Paris, France
He had a contentious relationship with his parents, but was very close to his grandmother, who called him Buddy, not John. Every day, she would tell him, "You're the luckiest, most handsome, most talented boy in the world."
The '90s were Mellencamp's lost decade, as he had become embittered with the industry and had no use for the burgeoning musical trends: hip-hop and grunge. "I was trying to do as little as I could," he told Rolling Stone, adding, "My records were paint-by-numbers."
He is an observational songwriter, so he rarely writes about himself. He also obscures their true meanings. "Many of my songs, you have to read between the lines," he said in Plain Spoken. "If you can't read between the lines, you shouldn't listen to my songs, because I'm never on the nose."
He gave the commencement speech and received an honorary degree at the University of Indiana on May 6, 2000.
In 1996, the John Mellencamp Pavilion opened on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, where he made his home. Mellencamp made a substantial donation to the project (reported at $1.5 million), which is used for sports, not music.
He set up his own recording studio, Belmont Mall, in an unincorporated township in Brown County, Indiana. Safe to say, it's off the beaten path. "If you've seen the Tim Burton Batman
movie, when Batman leads Vicki Vale, played by Kim Basinger, through the woods to the bat cave - that's what the drive to the studio is like," reports David Masciotra
, who was invited to the compound after publishing his book Mellencamp: American Troubadour
. "You're on this very narrow, rural route surrounded by forestry, and I don't know what would have occurred if there was any oncoming traffic because it's one of the most narrow roads I've ever driven. And then you turn into a little driveway and it's just this modest, green house that he converted into a recording studio in the 1980s."