John Mellencamp claims he left Columbia Records over former exec's racist remark


During an appearance on Howard Stern's SiriusXM radio show on Wednesday morning (March 1), John Mellencamp claimed that he insisted on breaking his recording contract with Columbia Records in 2001 after the label's then-president made a racist remark. Mellencamp publicly aired the incident for the first time while recalling the early days of MTV and the flack he caught for insisting that his videos feature more than just white faces.

And while the 65-year-old singer told Stern he brushed off death threats he received at the time -- including one from a disgruntled fan who foolishly included his actual return address on a hate speech-filled letter -- Mellencamp drew the line when it came to his label. "I'm gonna tell you a story Howard that I don't think I've ever told anywhere," Mellencamp said.

"I was on Columbia Records and I made a record called 'Peaceful World,'" he said of the single he released in August 2001 featuring India.Arie. "And it was climbing up the charts, it was right before 9/11. And my manager went in and was talking to the record company and the president of the record company -- who I won't mention his name but you could probably figure it out -- said, 'I don't know why Mellencamp insists on having these [n-words] singing with him. It makes it impossible to get him [on radio]."

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NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 24: Recording artist John Mellencamp performs onstage during CMT Crossroads: John Mellencamp and Darius Rucker on February 24, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for CMT)
NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 24: Recording artists John Mellencamp (L) and Darius Rucker (R) pose backstage during CMT Crossroads: John Mellencamp and Darius Rucker on February 24, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for CMT)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Singer John Mellencamp is seen walking in Soho on October 18, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 17: John Mellencamp seen out in Tribeca on October 17, 2016 in New York, New York. (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 19: John Mellencamp speaks and sings at the PEN/Song Lyrics Awards for Literary Excellence honoring John Prine and Kathleen Brennan & Tom Waits at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on September 19, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
John Mellencamp performs at Farm Aid at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia on September 17, 2016. (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
BRISTOW, VA - SEPTEMBER 17: John Mellencamp performs at 2016 Farm Aid on September 17, 2016 in Bristow, Virginia. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: John Mellencamp and son Speck Mellencamp are seen out in Tribeca on July 08, 2016 in New York, NY. (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images)
ST PAUL, MN - JULY 17: John Mellencamp performs at the 2016 Starkey Hearing Foundation 'So the World May Hear' awards gala at the St Paul RiverCentre on July 17, 2016 in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for Starkey Hearing Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 07: John Mellencamp is seen out in Tribeca on July 07, 2016 in New York, NY. (Photo by Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto via Getty Images)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EST and features a diverse lineup of guests that include celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Wednesday, April 27 included Johnny Knoxville ('Elvis & Nixon') and Grammy-winning musical artist John Mellencamp. (Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images) JOHN MELLENCAMP
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EST and features a diverse lineup of guests that include celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Wednesday, April 27 included Johnny Knoxville ('Elvis & Nixon') and Grammy-winning musical artist John Mellencamp. (Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images) JOHN MELLENCAMP, JIMMY KIMMEL
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 27: Honoree John Mellencamp performs onstage during the 2016 ASCAP Pop Awards at Dolby Theatre on April 27, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 27: (L-R) ASCAP President and Chairman Paul Williams, honoree John Mellencamp (recipient of the ASCAP Founders Award), TV personality Tavis Smiley, and ASCAP Executive Vice President, Membership John Titta pose at the 2016 ASCAP Pop Awards at the Dolby Ballroom on April 27, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for ASCAP)
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The singer called up his manager afterwards and asked how the meeting went. "He goes, 'well, [former Columbia Records Senior VP/Marketing & Media] Larry Jenkins lost his job over it cuz he stood up and said you can't say stuff like that," Mellencamp said. "And don't forget, all of Columbia was making their money off of rap at the time and hip-hop. And here was this guy using that word."

Though Mellencamp did not name the exec, he appeared to be alluding to former Columbia president Don Ienner -- who according to court testimony in a lawsuit filed by George Michael in his attempt to get off the label, once referred to the late "Faith" singer as a "f--got," a claim Ienner denied; a spokesperson for Columbia had no comment for this story and Ienner had not returned a request for comment at press time.

"My next call was to [lawyer] Allen Grubman and I just said, 'get me off this label... now.'" The single "Peaceful World" was featured on the Cuttin' Heads album, whose soulful title track -- about an interracial couple -- contained a rapped verse from Public Enemy leader Chuck D and the gospel-tinged refrain "don't calle me n---a cuz you know I don't like it like that."

It was Mellencamp's second effort for Columbia and he told Stern that he recorded the 2003 blues and folk covers album Trouble No More in order to finish his deal and be done with the label. The singer -- who also spoke of his near-deadly fight against spina bifida, crippling depression and bad luck with women during the hour-long chat -- was visiting Stern to promote his upcoming 23rd studio album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, due out on Republic on Apr. 28.


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