Singer-Songwriter John Mellencamp turns 71 today. The performer, known at different points in his career as John Cougar, Johnny Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp than simply John Mellencamp has earned 13 Grammy nominations over his career and holds the record for the most number one singles by a solo artist on the hot mainstream rock chart. A Billboard chart that began in 1981.

In college in Indiana, Mellencamp played in a glitter rock band and after he completed a two year degree had a job installing telephones. He gave all that up to move to New York and pursue music full time. It took a year and a half before he sparked some interest, releasing his first record in 1976 under the name Johnny Cougar because his management thought ‘Mellencamp’ was too hard to pronounce.

After moving to London to record and promote his next album, he was successful enough to return to the US and launch another record. His second record on his return, American Fool was the breakthrough with his first number one song and a Grammy winner among the singles it produced.

John Mellencamp was successful enough in the 80s to convince the record company using his full name would work out OK, and his biggest records were released as John Cougar Mellencamp. 1985’s Scarecrow produced 5 top 10 singles and was an album greatly influenced by 60s rock. Mellencamp gave his band about 100 singles from that era for them to study in preparation for recording the record. Mellencamp has proclaimed that this album actually launched the alt country genre, a view not widely shared.

By 1997 Mellencamp dropped the ‘Cougar’ and has recorded as John Mellencamp since then. His long career includes 24 studio albums with the most recent coming out this year and induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.  If not the first, Mellencamp was among the first to feature old time string instruments like the mandolin, dulcimer and autoharp on a par with the electric guitar and other instruments that are typical in rock music.