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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

John Hartford born 30 December 1937

John Cowan Hartford (December 30, 1937 – June 4, 2001) was an American folk, country and bluegrass composer and musician known for his mastery of the fiddle and banjo, as well as for his witty lyrics, unique vocal style, and extensive knowledge of Mississippi River lore.
Born John Cowan Harford in New York City, New York, when his father was attending medical school, he moved with his family to Saint Louis, Missouri and his father set up a medical practice. As a boy, he liked the traditional country music he heard on the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee, and by age 13 he was an accomplished guitar player, fiddler and five-string banjo player whose main influences were David "Stringbean" Akeman, Benny Martin, and Earl Scruggs. He was also influenced by many local musicians, including Homer Dillard, his sons Rodney and Doug Dillard, and Gene Goforth, playing music with them every chance that he could.
 After graduating from high school, he attended Washington University in Saint Louis, completing 4 years of a commercial arts program, dropping out to pursue a musical career, but he finally received his Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree in 1960. In 1965 he moved to Nashville, taking a disc jockey job at radio station WSIX and a year later he signed a recording contract with Chet Atkins at RCA, who suggested that he add a "t" to his last name, changing it from Harford to Hartford.

His second Nashville album, "Earthwords & Music," included the track "Gentle on My Mind" which was also recorded and sung by Glen Campbell in 1967, giving the song a much wider publication that resulted in Grammy Awards for the Best Folk Performance and the Best Country and Western Song.
He then relocated to Southern California where he became a regular on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and continued to record albums. He returned to Nashville in 1971 to go back to his traditional roots, forming a bluegrass band with prominent Nashville musicians that featured guitarist Norman Blake, dobro player Tut Taylor, and Vassar Clemens on fiddle. At that time he switched record labels from RCA to Warner Brothers, recording several albums that would set the tone of his later career, which would be defined as "newgrass."
While music was his first love, his second love was steamboats, and in the 1970s he earned his steamboat's pilot license, working summers on the Julia Belle Swain. He also occasionally worked as a towboat pilot on the Mississippi, Illinois, and Tennessee Rivers.

A wry performer who often wrote witty lyrics to his songs, he invented his shuffle tap dance move, clogging on an amplified piece of plywood while he played and sang. He would change record labels several more times, including his own label Small Dog Barking, continuously experimenting with non-traditional country and bluegrass styles, winning a Grammy Award for his "Mark Twang" album in 1976.
In 1980 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma but continued to tour and record, and was involved in the narration of the Ken Burns public television series "The Civil War."

In 2000, he recorded several songs for the soundtrack of the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou," winning another Grammy Award. His last bluegrass album, "Hamilton Iron Works," a collection of old-time fiddle tunes that he had learned throughout his life, was recorded shortly before his death.
Overall, he recorded more than 30 albums that embraced a broad spectrum of styles, from traditional country to "newgrass" to the traditional folk and bluegrass style. In the last few months of his life, his disease progressed to the point where he lost the use of his hands and could no longer play a musical instrument.

He died from his disease at the age of 63. He was given a star on the Saint Louis Walk of Fame and in September 2005 he received a posthumous Presidents Award by the Americana Music Association. (bio mainly by William Bjornstad)

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For John Hartford – Wild Hog In The Red Brush (1996) go here:

1. Squirrel Hunters
2. Birdie
3. Grandmammy Look at Uncle Sam
4. Old Virginia Reel
5. Flannery's Dream
6. Down at the Mouth of Old Stinson
7. The Girl With the Blue Dress On
8. Wild Hog in the Red Brush
9. Over the Road to Maysville
10. Bumblebee in a Jug
11. Bostony
12. Shelvin' Rock
13. Molly Put the Kettle On
14. West Fork Gals
15. Portsmouth Airs
16. Coquette
17. Jimmy in the Swamp
18. Lady of the Lake
19. Natchez Under the Hill