Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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HARTFORD, John

(b 30 Dec. '37, NY) Multi- instrumentalist, singer, songwriter. Raised in St Louis MO where he played folk and country music in bars. Worked as disc jockey, sign painter, deckhand on Mississippi river boat; went to Nashville as session musician '66; signed as writer with Glaser Bros, made big breakthrough with 'Gentle On My Mind', recorded by over 300 artists, won Grammy for Best Country Song '66. John's record on RCA made country chart; Glen Campbell had the pop hit. Working solo, accompanying his singing with banjo, fiddle, guitar and percussion effects from an electrified board on which he dances, he uses his own songs and others drawn from trad. country music. Often performs at bluegrass festivals, records with bluegrass musicians; was regular guest on TV shows Hee-Haw, Today, Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, Smothers Bros etc. LPs incl. Looks At Life '66, Housing Project '68, The Love Album '69 on RCA; John Hartford '69 on RCA and Aereo-Plain '71 on WB charted in Billboard.

He switched to the eclectic Chicago label Flying Fish for Mark Twang '76 (won a Grammy), teamed with the Dillards as Dillard-Hartford-Dillard for Glitterglass From The Nashwood Hollyville Strings '77; then All In The Name Of Love '78 and Slumbering On The Cumberland '80, plus others. He guested on albums by Hoyt Axton, Shel Silverstein, James Taylor etc; teamed with the Dillards again on Permanent Wave '80. He revived '60s R&B hit 'Piece Of My Heart' '84 with a surrealist video; wrote book Steamboat In A Cornfield '87, turned into a comic strip by Gasoline Alley '91; also wrote Banjos, Fiddles And Riverboats, a TNN special, and was one of the voices on Ken Burns's TV series on the Civil War. On Down On The River '89 (by John Hartford and the Hartford String Band), his 'lyrics have a way of freezing moments in time', his voice has the 'welcome warmth of a call from a friend on a lonely evening', wrote Jack Hurst in the Chicago Tribune. Further albums were Gum Tree Canoe '84, Hartford And Hartford '91 (with John and Jamie), still on Flying Fish. Morning Bugle with Dave Holland and Norman Blake is on Rounder; Annual Waltz '87 on MCA-Dot.