Thursday, May 3, 2007

John Hartford

You probably don't know who John Hartford was.

He was a genius of American music. He made enough money as the composer of Gentle On My Mind to finance a long career breaking new ground using traditional American music as a base.

Here's an early video of him doing straight-up bluegrass with Johnny Cash at the Grand Ole Opry, with Vassar Clements on fiddle.

When I was learning to play the banjo in the early 70's, his Morning Bugle record was a revelation to me of what could be done with that instrument, but not in a flashy way. He played the banjo with soul.

He was also seminal to the Newgrass movement, and a band I was in in college -- The Corn Palace Conquistadors -- covered almost every song from his album Aereo-Plain.

John later started performing solo, using his feet on plywood for rhythm. His album Mark Twang, which consists of solo recordings, won a Grammy. I especially like "Long Hot Summer Days" (next video) because it came out when I was working summers loading grain barges on the Mississippi River, and that's what the song is about. John had a lifelong love of riverboat life in the Midwest, and was a licenced riverboat pilot.

John recorded dozens of records, and did some of the voice work and music for Ken Burns' Civil War documentary. He also recorded some tracks for O Brother Where Art Thou when he was quite ill with cancer. He died in 2001.

1 comment:

sean coon said...

no, i didn't know of him. good stuff.