Producer-Musician John Jennings Dead at 61

Contributed Significantly to Mary Chapin Carpenter's Success

John Jennings, who rose to prominence in country music in the late 1980s as Mary Chapin Carpenter’s co-producer, guitarist and occasional co-writer, died Saturday (Oct. 17) of kidney cancer. He was 61.

Born in Luray, Virginia, and raised in New Mexico and Washington, D.C., Jennings was steeped in music of all sorts. Initially a student of trumpet and piano, he switched to guitar under the influence of the Beatles. Among the early D.C. bands he played in were Bill Holland & Rent’s Due and Big Yankee Dollar.

He was introduced to Carpenter by Bill Danoff, the co-writer of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and a member of the Starland Vocal Band. This led to the collaboration that created Hometown Girl, Carpenter’s 1987 debut album on Columbia Records.

Although her rise in country music was gradual, Carpenter, with Jennings prominent in the creative mix, would go on to twice win the County Music Association’s female vocalist of the year award.

Jennings co-produced her platinum Shooting Straight in the Dark, double-platinum Stones in the Road and quadruple-platinum Come On, Come On.

In addition to his production work with Carpenter, Jennings also produced albums for Janis Ian, John Gorka, Robin & Linda Williams, Bill Morrisey and BeauSoleil — as well as six of his own albums.

He produced tracks as well for the movies My Best Friend’s Wedding, Tin Cup and Steal This Movie.

As a studio musician, he recorded with George Jones, Kathy Mattea, Ricky Skaggs, Iris DeMent, Indigo Girls and Tony Rice.

Carpenter acknowledged Jennings’ passing at acoustic concerts this weekend in Minnesota and Iowa.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.