John Hartford

John Hartford

To put it plainly John Hartford was one of the most influential old time/blue grass musicians that ever lived.  Not specifically because of his incredible skill with a fiddle or banjo but because he was the real deal.  He lived the music.  The way he looked, the places he chose to take his life, the things he spoke passionately about all reflected an individual with complete focus and direction.  A person with a single purpose and that purpose was to create and share American music of all kinds from Old Time to New Grass.

John Hartford was a master with his fiddle.  I recall hearing a story about him playing a show outside someplace.  In the midst of his performance, a ambulance drove by with it’s sirens blaring.  You’d think your typical performer in this situation would just trudge through until the ambulance was gone, a extreme premadana may have even stopped altogether.  John did neither, quick on his feet he actually worked the ambulance’s siren into the song.  He was able to take a distraction and make it the attraction.  The person that told me the story didn’t remember much else specifically about the show but she did remember that ambulance driving by.  This speaks bounds about his musicianship.  I also have a fiddle lesson video that John put together.  In it he tells about how he became infatuated with making human vocal sounds with his fiddle.  Not necessarily singing sounds but just every day words and in the video he plays some examples.  Granted that may sound a little cheesy on the outset but it is really neat to watch him ask the fiddle questions and then it’d answer in English.

In the course of playing in various bands and random jamming John played with hundreds if not thousands of musicians through the years.  He led bands of all sorts, Old Time, Blue Grass, New Grass, Country etc.  pretty much all the music he played was in the “American” vein.  As you’ll see by his release list below he had been a very busy man since his start in 1967.  Unfortunately John Hartford passed away in 2001 at the age 63 after losing a many-year long battle with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  The loss truly is enormous as rarely has such a delightful and original man walked this earth much less one who was as gifted a musician.

I can’t say I’m familiar with all of John Hartford’s albums but of the ones I’ve heard so far I my favorite is Hamilton Ironworks.  It was the last album he released and the playing on it is top notch.  There’s something about how it is mastered but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a fiddle sound so good in digital form.  He tells many interesting stories on it too often even right in the middle of a song.  The stories bring the songs to life even more and make you feel like you’re there with him as he chats with the listener like an old friend.  Truly a spectacular album.

There is a lot of stuff I’m leaving out about John but if you are interested there a few biographies exist on him that are quite interesting.  Here are John Hartford’s major releases…

1) Looks at Life (1967)
2) Earthwords & Music (1967)
3) The Love Album (1968)
4) Housing Project (1968)
5) Gentle On My Mind (1968)
6) John Hartford (1969)
7) Iron Mountain Depot (1970)
8) Aereo-Plain (1971)
9) Morning Bugle (1972)
10) Nobody Knows What You Do (1976)
11) Mark Twang (1976)
12) Dillard-Hartford-Dillard (1977)
13) All In the Name of Love (1977)
14) Headin’ Down Into the Mystery Below (1978)
15) Slumberin’ on the Cumberland (1979)
16) You and Me at Home (1980)
17) Permanent Wave (1980)
18) Catalogue (1981)
19) Gum Tree Canoe (1984)
20) Clements, Hartford, Holland (1987)
21) Annual Waltz (1987)
22) Me Oh My, How the Time Does Fly (1987)
23) Down on the River (1989)
24) Hartford and Hartford (1991)
25) Cadillac Rag (1991)
26) Goin’ Back to Dixie (1992)
27) The Walls We Bounce Off Of (1994)
28) Old Sport (1994)
29) The Fun of Open Discussion (1995)
30) No End of Love (1996)
31) Wild Hog in the Red Brush (1996)
32) The Bullies Have All Gone to Rest (1998)
33) The Speed of the Old Long Bow (1998)
34) Retrograss (1999)
35) Good Old Boys (1999)
36) Hamilton Ironworks (2001)
37) Steam Powered Aereo-Takes (2002)

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