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Woody Baker, the Man on the Cover of "Lonesome Jubilee," Dies
03.17.2009 -


Woodrow (Woody) Baker died Tuesday at his home in Elnora, Indiana. He was 94.

Baker was a Navy veteran of World War II, a member of the V.F.W. and American Legion. He was a welder for over 50 years.

He was also the working man sitting next to a much younger John Mellencamp at the Midway Tavern in Elnora on the cover of his 1987 album "The Lonesome Jubilee."

"He was proud of it. He bragged about it," his son--who's also known as Woody-told the Bloomington Herald. "It was a pretty amazing thing. I still have younger guys, co-workers, come up to me and say, 'Isn't that your dad on the cover of 'The Lonesome Jubilee'? They just can't believe it. It's just something that has never gone away."

According to the Herald, the bartender was asked if he knew an older, working class type who would sit at the bar with John. "They wanted somebody who was kind of a rough, working class, family man," young Woody said. "So they went and got Dad at work and brought him in. He was pretty dirty. He wanted to clean up. But they said, 'no, no, you're perfect.'"

The son told the Herald that John was apparently amused that his dad "didn't have a clue" who he was. The two then talked a bit while the iconic cover was photographed.

"Everybody in town knew Woody," Elnora's clerk-treasurer told the paper. "I think everyone enjoyed the fact he got the opportunity to be in that picture."

A small town of 800 in the rural farming area of Daviess County, Indiana, Elnora is just north of Washington, about 25 miles Southwest of Bloomington. John had hired a photographer to scout authentic Southern Indiana settings, and after finding the Midway, Skeeter Hagler, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for his documentary on the life of the West Texas cowboy, came in to shoot the cover.

"The Lonesome Jubilee" is considered one of John's strongest albums. It went to No. 6 on Billboard's pop album chart, and yielded the hits "Paper in Fire," "Cherry Bomb," "Check It Out," "Rooty Toot Toot," "The Real Life" and "Hard Times for an Honest Man." In the context of these songs, the stark cover juxtaposition of the youthful, long-haired Mellencamp with what looks to be a weary, beaten-down, blue-collar old man further serves to illustrate the back cover's quote from "Ecclesiastes": "Generations come and go but it makes no difference. The sun rises and sets and hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south and north, here and there, twisting back and forth, getting nowhere. The rivers run into the sea but the sea is never full, and the water returns again to the rivers, and flows again to the sea..."

Baker is survived by his wife of 51 years, 15 children, 40 grandchildren and 46 great-grandchildren.

The Midway Tavern was torn down a few years ago.

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