A first on Prine Time, Billy welcomes a family member, Fiona Whelan Prine, his sister-in-law, wife of his brother, the late John Prine, who passed away in early 2020 due to complications from Covid-19 at the age of 73.
Prine’s wife of nearly 25 years Fiona also took over as John’s manager after his longtime manager Al Bunetta passed away five years ago.
“I admire Fiona,” says Billy. “I look up to her in many ways. She’s really a worker, gets things done and likes to help the downthrodden. Having Fiona on the show tonight is really a special moment for me.”
Throughout the chat, Fiona discusses taking on Prine’s Oh Boy Records with son Jody and the pressures of making sure that masters and finances were secured, in addition to looking after John’s loyal fans, many following him since 1971. “We were conscious that they were part of our story, because you can’t be an independent anything without a community.”
Oh Boy also needed to break into the digital age and the streaming services to open up new audiences and more visibility—and release a new record, which Prine delivered.
Both share memories of being on the road—Billy even reminiscing about working as a guitar tech the tour with his brother in 1978. John was a simple man: he always needed a copy of the New York Times, a Dairy Queen, and a hot dog stand nearby.
First seeing him perform in Dublin when she was 17, Fiona clearly remembers a poignant moment when she decided to leave the show early. As she looked back at stage, Prine sang the 1971 “Sam Stone” line Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios. From that moment, she says he remained on her radar since one of the big things she and her late father shared was radio.
Many years later, when Fiona was managing three production studios in Dublin, she finally met John during a big Americana event, also featuring Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, Rosie Flores, and many others. During the event’s second night, they met at an after party, and the rest of the night (and Fiona’s “awkward” lunch with John the following day) is shared in more detail in the podcast.
Neither Billy nor Fiona believe John ever would have retired. It was in his DNA. He never unpacked his suitcase, and was always ready to go.
Fiona says she always knew he had another record in him with so many melodies and lyrics constantly floating around. His last record, 2018’s The Tree of Forgiveness was one of Prine’s most successful releases, outside of 1991’s The Missing Years, says Fiona. A year after its release, Prine also picked up the 2019 Grammy Lifetime Achievement.
In hindsight, Fiona says that spending the last six years on road with John was never part of the plan, but she’s forever thankful for those memorable drives and long talks as they made their way to the next town.
“Being out there every single night with him just gave us a whole new level to our relationship.”
Listen to the full episode here.