John Hartford, a three-time Grammy winner, recorded multiple albums and wrote one of the most successful songs of all time, ‘Gentle On My Mind.’
About John Hartford’s life
Born in New York to a medical resident and a painter mother, John Hartford grew up in St. Louis. He started making money for himself at the age of ten, taking his first job on a riverboat. He was a big fan of traditional country music, which he could hear on the Grand Ole Opry radio program. After being influenced by Stringbean and Earl Scruggs, he learned to play fiddler and banjo by thirteen.
In high school, he formed his first musical band and stepped out of Washington University in a year to follow his talent. Hartford recorded a few songs for minor local records in the early 1960s while performing and occasionally working as a DJ and commercial graphic designer.
It didn’t take too long for him to connect some other creators of the town’s musical reformation artists such as Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, and the Glaser Brothers, who operated a music studio and helped expand Hartford and his music on Music Row.
During his career, he collaborated with Warner Bros. Record and Flying Fish. He performed under a variety of labels too. Finally, in 1991, he launched his brand, Small Dog a’Barkin’. In 2001, he completed his farewell tour, the Down from the Mountain tour, inspired by the film and its supporting record.
Hartford was diagnosed with non-lymphoma Hodgkin’s in the late 1980s, but he went on to produce and perform until his hands stopped working. He discovered he couldn’t move his hands while playing in Texas in April due to his illness, which took his life months later in 2001.
Though Hartford was firmly attached to folk music, he still is regarded as a co-founder of the newgrass movement. This can be seen even in his most recent band and albums, where he showcased his passion for pre-bluegrass and older songs.
Hartford released almost 30 albums, spanning a wide range of styles, from classic country on his initial RCA records to the modern and innovative sound of his first newgrass recordings to the folkloric style to which he frequently revisited later down the line.
The rigidity of Hartford’s records also differs significantly, from the grand and methodical Annual Waltz to the harsher and much less polished recordings that marked many of his later records.
Hartford’s most famous works ‘Aereo-Plain’ and ‘Morning Bugle’ are widely regarded. This is because they were released at the beginning of a period in which artists like Hartford and the New Grass Revival, steered by Sam Bush, would forge a new type of folk music by fusing their country origins with impacts from a variety of other references.
He released several live albums in his senior years and records that delved into the catalog of vintage folk songs. He designed the cover image for a few of his albums with both hands at the same time.
In recognition of his achievements, Hartford was honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
In September 2005, the Americana Music Association presented him with a posthumous president’s award.
The Bill Monroe Music Park & Campground, Indiana, usually hosts the annual John Hartford Memorial Festival for remembering him.