John Mellencamp and Stephen King have hardly been idle over the last 10 years. But in their not-so-copious spare time, they've actually been collaborating on another project (with musician T-Bone Burnett) that'll be a first for both: A Southern Gothic supernatural musical.
"Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" has been more than a decade in the making; back in 2000 when Billboard first wrote about it, it was called "Mississippi Ghost Brothers." But whatever's changed about it over the years, the core remains the same -- singer/songwriter Mellencamp bought a cabin on a lake, and later learned about a brother-on-brother murder that happened there. He spoke to King about it, and the two found a natural connection over the material. King wrote the words, Mellencamp the songs and Burnett produced the whole package, which debuted onstage in Atlanta last year.
"We didn't want to get a big orchestral 'Phantom of the Opera' feel," King said on "Morning Joe" Friday. "We wanted a kind of American music thing, a smaller acoustic deal."
They recorded the music, with singers like Elvis Costello, Roseanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson lending their talents to the songs.
And over the time span, something else new happened: The writer and the musician became good friends. "This was an opportunity for all three of us to get out of our trenches, to do something different," Mellencamp said. "For me, 'Ghost Brothers' is already a success, because over the last 15 years Steve King has become like my brother."
Still, there was one aspect to the interview that threatened to overshadow the rest -- the fact that Mellencamp was sitting there in the studio sporting a black eye. They barely touched on it during the chat, but Mellencamp went into greater detail about it with David Letterman when he visited "Late Show" with King on June 5.
"Was there trouble backstage?" Letterman joked on seeing the eye.
Mellencamp explained it came from his son -- his fully grown son. "My son and I had words and he got a punch in and I didn't," he said. "(He's) 18. He's 6'2 and weighs almost 200 pounds."
Letterman chastised Mellencamp for picking a fight with his kid, which the singer said reminded him of how his own father had reacted. "My son punches me and my dad calls me and says, 'John, you need to change your attitude.'"
"Ghost Brothers" is set to go on the road later in 2013; more information can be found at the website here.