John Prine’s wistful yet wise “How Lucky,” first recorded for his 1979 LP Pink Cadillac and produced by Sam Phillips in Memphis, gets a Bluff City update from Grammy-winning Memphis-based producer Matt Ross-Spang for Amazon Music’s “Produced By” series. Listen to the song here.
Rather than celebrating the nostalgia of childhood memories, the tune takes more pleasure in the gift of not being able to recall certain events and circumstances, sentiment skillfully captured in the line, “Bronzed admiration in a blind spot of regret,” as the singer-songwriter hangs his bronzed baby shoes from his car’s rearview mirror. Speaking of it at the time, Prine reportedly called “How Lucky” “a song of personal confrontation I started writing in the parking lot of my favorite hot dog stand two years ago. I would have finished it that day but my radiator hose burst in my car upon leaving the hot dog stand.”
“How Lucky,” along with Prine’s “Saigon,” were the last two songs ever produced by Phillips at the Sam Phillips Recording Service. Ross-Spang began interning at Sun Studio in Memphis at age 16, working his way up to Chief Engineer & Operations Manager. In 2015, he left Sun to become an independent engineer, producer and mixer, based primarily out of Phillips’ iconic Recording Service facility. Having worked closely with Phillips’ sons Knox and Jerry, Ross-Spang recalls the 2007 Recording Academy event honoring Knox Phillips, which included Prine’s live performance of “How Lucky.” “I’ve never forgotten John’s performance that night… it was quite profound and the song has always resonated with me as I’ve been very lucky in this life,” he says in a statement. “After engineering John’s The Tree of Forgiveness album and becoming close with him I thought the song is even more relevant now.”
John Prine was named Artist of the Year at Wednesday night’s Americana Honors and Awards ceremony at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and earlier this week also became only the second artist to receive the BMI Troubadour award.
Here’s Prine’s original take on “How Lucky”: