John Mellencamp

On this day in 1951, John Mellencamp was born in Seymour, Ind. Mellencamp, who began his career as John Cougar, has been scoring hits, such as "Small Town" and "Cherry Bomb," with his personal brand of rootsy folk-rock since the late '70s.

Mellencamp, who had spina bifida as an infant, bought his first guitar in 1967. Upon graduating high school three years later, he married and fathered a child. In 1971, Mellencamp formed the glitter-rock group Trash with his guitarist friend Larry Crane (who would also play in Mellencamp's later bands).

After graduating college in 1975, Mellencamp headed for New York with a demo tape on which he covered Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Kicks." He contacted MainMan, the management company of his hero, David Bowie. MainMan's Tony DeFries agreed to manage Mellencamp -- naming him Johnny Cougar -- and signed him to MCA Records.

Chestnut Street Incident (1976), containing mostly covers, was Cougar's debut. Unhappy with MainMan, Mellencamp returned to Indiana to write original songs. Soon, he signed with Riva, which released 1979's John Cougar. The LP went as high as #64 in the U.S., buoyed by the #28 hit "I Need a Lover" (which Pat Benatar covered). The next year's Nothin' Matters and What If It Did produced two minor hits.

Mellencamp broke into the mainstream in 1982. He began the year supporting Heart on tour, but after American Fool topped the U.S. charts and became the best-selling album of the year, John Cougar became a headliner. The LP was sparked by two massive singles, the #2 "Hurts So Good" and the chart-topping "Jack and Diane."

Billing himself as John Cougar Mellencamp, he scored with critics and public alike with his next album, Uh-Huh, in 1983. That album yielded the stunning single about small-town life, "Pink Houses." Mellencamp continued chronicling Americana with the more mature Scarecrow (1985), which solidified his standing as a leading roots-rocker in the league of Tom Petty and Bob Seger. Also in 1985, he helped organize the first Farm Aid concert, an all-star event that was a benefit for small-"family" farmers.

Critical hosannas continued with 1987's The Lonesome Jubilee and 1989's Big Daddy. "Get a Leg Up," from 1991's Whenever We Wanted, made the top 20, but the album marked a slight dip in sales for Mellencamp. The following year, Mellencamp married his third wife, model Elaine Irwin, who appeared in the song's video. He also released his feature-film directorial debut, "Falling From Grace."

Human Wheels (1993) made the Top 10, but Mellencamp suffered a heart attack while onstage during a tour supporting 1994's Dance Naked. The disc produced the top 5 hit duet with Me'shell Ndegéocello, "Wild Night," a cover of Van Morrison's tune.

Mr. Happy Go-Lucky (1996) spawned the minor hit "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)." Mellencamp played this year's Farm Aid and his self-titled effort of new material was released Tuesday (Oct. 6) on his new label, Columbia. Mellencamp will also issue a book of his paintings later this month.

Other birthdays: Colin Cooper (Climax Blues Band), 59; Martin Murray (Honeycombs), 57; Tony Silvester (Main Ingredient), 57; Kevin Godley (10cc), 53; David Hope (Kansas), 49; Tico Torres (Bon Jovi), 45; Toni Braxton, 30; Thom Yorke (Radiohead), 30.