The Road to Farm Aid 30: with John Mellencamp

Photo courtesy of Farm Aid. © Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

Come with us on the (virtual) Road to Farm Aid as we celebrate Farm Aid's 30th anniversary concert in Chicago by profiling the amazing musicians involved - and join us there in person on September 19th!

Organized in 1985 by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, the first Farm Aid concert set out to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. Since then, Farm Aid has raised more than $48 million to promote a vibrant family farm system.

Name: John Mellencamp

Born: October 7, 1951

Hometown: Seymour, Indiana (but lives and works in Bloomington)

A Bit of Background

Singer-songwriter and guitarist John Mellencamp started playing live gigs when he was just 14 years old, and released his first album in 1976. By the early 80s, he was racking up the hits, and his music became synonymous with the heartland sound of rock n' roll. In 1982, he released the album American Fool, which included huge hits like "Hurts So Good" and "Jack and Diane." More hits followed in the 80s, with songs like "Small Town," "R-O-C-K in the USA," "Cherry Bomb" and many more.

Mellencamp toured extensively throughout the 80s - his online bio notes that he played over 1,000 shows all over the world during that decade. He continues to put out hit records and has toured with other musical greats like Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.

While many of Mellencamp's song have themes revolving around the heartland, small towns and farmers, the lyrics to his song Scarecrow stand out as a powerful reminder of the very real, and continued, threat to small family farms. Here's an excerpt:

The crops we grew last summer weren't enough to pay the loans/Couldn't buy the seed to plant this spring and the Farmers Bank foreclosed/Called my old friend Schepman up to auction off the land/He said John it's just my job and I hope you understand

Farm Aid Role 

Along with Nelson and Neil Young, Mellencamp put together the very first Farm Aid show in 1985 - and the rest is history. Over the last 30 years, Farm Aid has raised millions of dollars to keep family farmers on their land and to promote food from family farms. Mellencamp sits on the board of the organization (along with Nelson, Young and later addition Dave Matthews) and performs at the Farm Aid concert every year.

Mellencamp and his fans also run a yearly Farm Aid Auction (this year's launched yesterday!) to raise money for Farm Aid. Items include Mellencamp memorabilia (and other items) donated by fans, with many signed by Mellencamp himself.

Musical Tidbits

  • Early in his career, his manager and label insisted he use the moniker "Cougar" (he was "Johnny Cougar" at first) against his will, but by the mid-1990s he was finally able to drop it.
  • Mellencamp has had 22 Top 40 hits in the US and has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards.
  • He was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

Our Favorite Song

Pink Houses (1983)