The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

That quote is attributed to Hunter S. Thompson. He never said or wrote it (he did write something similar about the TV industry), but it certainly seems to be appropriate.

If you’re a recording artist with mass appeal — the “1%” of the music industry — you can make some cash. Everyone else scuffles and struggles for table scraps. Chuck Prophet is firmly entrenched in the 99% category.

I saw him last night in concert at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY. There were maybe 250 people in the audience. Probably the same 250 people who see Chuck when he rolls through town each year. You can set your watch by his gigs. The swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, the buzzards return to Hinckley, and Chuck comes to Cincy. He — and his fabulous band The Mission Express — are consummate road dogs. They tour constantly. In a van, not a fancy bus. Hoping to sell enough merch to turn a small profit.

Chuck has been releasing albums since 1985, when he joined Green on Red. He’s been putting out solo albums since 1990. He looks — and often sounds — a lot like Tom Petty. If you listen to his releases, you find Americana/indie rock/call-it-whatever-you-want gems on every album. Two of his most recent albums, Temple Beautiful and Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, are wall-to-wall stellar.

Chuck could be bitter, but it certainly doesn’t seem that way. He’s up on stage smiling, laughing, joking, having fun with the audience and his band (which includes his wife Stephanie Finch). At one point in the set, he even said “let me tell you a secret: I’m having a blast up here!”

Barring a miracle, Chuck’s never going to make it big in the music industry. But if writing and recording great music and putting on a great show night after night for a small but appreciative audience count (and it my book they do), then Chuck’s a superstar.