REMEMBERING JOHN & MARIE HARTFORD
The times I spent with the Hartford's were short , but stretched out over 31 years....all were good ...even the goodby.
On December 30th, 2001 what would of been John's 64th Birthday, Mrs. Marie Hartford left us too.
We will always remember both of you and the sadness is buffeted by the hope your both dancing "Together Again" to the Annual Waltz
I asked Cap'n Don Sanders ,who could not attend Marie's services, if he could arrange for a River Salute at 3:30 CST
Weds Jan 2 2002. Here is his reply :
Friends,At 3:30pm, Nashville time, on Wed. Jan 02, Susan Marie Hartford was buried next to her beloved husband, John Hartford. John had died less than six months prior. At the request of a mutual Nashville friend, a final farewell salute was blown aboard the GRAND VICTORIA II, on the Ohio River at mile 506, casino boat at the same time that Marie's funeral began, some 400 miles to the Southwest. Capt. John Leed, a dedicated John Hartford fan, is shown on the enclosed mpeg file blowing the GRAND VICTORIA II's three-chime whistle, patented in
1871 and believed to have been on the sidewheeler MAGNOLIA, that was built in Cincinnati in the mid-1870's. John loved to hear this whistle blown, and whenever I called him, he'd always ask to hear the whistle. "Wow," he'd exclaim, "Sounds like the DELTA QUEEN." "Better," I'd reply.Judge for yourself as you listen to the MAGNOLIA / GRAND VICTORIA II whistle blown in memory of our dear friend Marie.
"Did you hear that, John?"
Sorry The Marie Hartford Salute File is suffering a case of Steamboat Cyber Whistle Blues
Capn' Sanders & I are working on getting the $%&* Thing Fixed
Sorry The Marie Hartford Salute File is suffering a case of Steamboat Cyber Whistle Blues
Capn' Sanders & I are working on getting the $%&* Thing Fixed
Like many of you, the first time I saw John was on the Glen Campbell show. The first time I saw him in person was at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, New York City. The Au Go Go was a small cellar club across Bleeker street from the Bitter End. It was in the very early seventies and he was touring to support his soon to be released Aereo Plain album. John's physical appearance had altered radically from what we knew from TV. With a mattress factory explosion hair style, he looked like the hippies he would be singing about on Up On The Hill. He came out alone, sat himself down in front of two Shure SM57 mics and proceeded to play one of his umpteen thousand variations of Gentle On My Mind, I would get to hear over the next 30 years. Some jerbony (New Yawkian for Yahoo) in the audience yelled out "Where's Glen?" (who said big city audiences were sophisticated). John didn't raise an eyebrow or miss a beat. His eyes were closed and he just continued on with his show. And what a show it was. He did a couple of solo numbers and then brought out Norman Blake, another strange looking character, who proceeded to quietly dazzle us with his guitar that weaved all around what John was doing on the banjo.
The tour was advertised in the NY area as John Hartford and some of the best studio musicians from Nashville. Though the band I was in at the time was more into jazz rock (ala Blood Sweat and Tears) like me they were all open to everything imaginable. That Sunday night we got our imaginations opened up big time. As John continued on, he brought out his "straight men" Vassar Clements and Tut Taylor one by one, layering in the textures we would all soon be listening to again and again when Aereo Plain hit the streets.
ORIGINAL DAWG MUSIC
Long before David Grissman's band would get hit with the label Dawg Music by a couple of un-appreciating, hardcore, rednecked, bluegrassers. "Gawd....That sounds like dawg music" , Red and Rusty my Irish Setters, were getting into what John was laying down. Every time Boogie came on either the album or 8 track, they would freak out. First they would jump up and listen intently like Nipper the RCA mascot, their heads turning side to side as John's gravely voice came out of the speakers "HEY BABE YOU WANNA BOOGIE?" but when John would commence to grunting they would each attack a speaker....growling back and barking at him. They never got used to it, fell for it every time. Highbrow entertainment at it's finest.
STEAMBOAT WHISTLE WEDDING
I had been seriously dating Susan, our bass player for a year or so before Aereo Plain came out, and one song off it played a significant part in our wedding plans. It was Christmas Day night and we were parking in her '62 VW down by Brown's River in Sayville, Long Island. Lots of privacy and dirt roads. Well we were on our way back to civilization when I drove back across this frozen mini lake that covered the path. I guess we must of really heated up things back in the weeds, because the ice let go and we found the Volkswagon sinking and soon buried in the water and mud. I got out , got wet and found some old bulkhead planks to place under the wheels. I remember being pretty agitated and also feeling a strong draft as I bent over to my task. For some reason I started singing Steamboat Whistle Blues " I got stuck in the ice on Christmas Eve...I Froze My Ass It's True" and wasn't upset any more. We both had a good laugh and started making plans to get hitched.
DON'T LEAVE YOUR RECORDS IN THE FLORIDA SUN
As the years marched on, Susan and I went our
separate ways. She got Red, I kept Rusty. Perhaps if John would
of married us ( because as a licensed steamboat pilot, he had
the legal authority) we might of lasted a tad longer. I know of
one wedding he performed that stayed intact for 5 years. (We lasted
that long too) The bride said that it was never totally legal
anyway because Tut Taylor signed John's name on the certificate.
I kept a close ear on what John was doing. Groups that I was involved in went from jazz and pop to acoustic string bands. When "Nobody Knows What You Do" came out, it was yet another revelation. (Bluegrass with Drums & John McLaughlin too) Through it all though, was some of the most interesting and influential songwriting, (Tall Buildings) I would get to hear. I moved to Florida in the late '70's and seemed to have no problem meeting other Hartford Heads. I recall one jam session that started on a Sunday afternoon and went well into Monday morning. Mike Marshall and I were the last two standing and I have some wonderful tape of us playing Vamp In The Middle, My Rag etc. I caught back up with John and company several times in Tampa. He was now touring with two other great acts. Newgrass Revival and the Norman Blake Trio. When I opened a music hall in Clearwater, all three acts were on my list to book. During our run from 1981- 83 we were able to book two out of three. John and Norman appeared there, along with Doc Watson, Seldom Scene, Dan Crary, Arlo Guthrie, Tony Trishka, Leo Kottke, Tom Paxton, Albert King and folks like that.
I still remember the simple contract rider for John. We were to supply an 4' x 8' piece of high quality marine plywood, but were advised to let John do the placement of it on the stage. When he pulled up in his Silver Eagle bus with Marie Hartford and Joe Hutson, he set to work micing up the plywood with a couple of Barcus Berry pickups, laid out an array of banjo's and fiddles..... we did a simple sound check and then it was supper time. Six of us, The Hartfords, Joe Hutson, my new bride Miss Anne, my right hand man Steve Hansen and myself piled into our 5 passenger Cordoba (with the fine Corinthian Leather) and off to a restaurant we went. Had a great time, Marie was a card..... we heard lots of Nashville stories , the waiter asked "Are you John Hartford" John said, "Yes.... I've been called that" and he doodled on a napkin for him. It was getting near show time, so we piled back into the Chrysler like a bunch of kids going to a drive inn movie. There were a lot of laughs on the ride back to the hall. John did two LONG shows that night. In fact the crowd lined up for the second show was getting VERY antsy because the first show was running way over. (The Boy Loved To Play)
The second show ran late into the evening too. I think they were planning on returning straight to Nashville and Joe Hutson the soundman, bus driver etc. was fairly eager to get on the road. John however was fascinated by the instruments we had in our guitar shop next door especially my Benedetto 7 String arch top. The 7 string was developed in the late '30's by George Van Eps and John told us a St. Louis story of meeting George's father, classical banjo player Fred Van Ep's when John was around twelve. "He played complete Sousa Marches for us on a banjo!" Over the course of the evening, I had mentioned to John I used his Presbyterian Guitar piece in lessons I taught to my students. He wanted to hear me play it before he left. Outside Joe was blowing the bus horn, but John was determined to let me finish the song. When he finally did leave he said to look him up if I ever was in Nashville. November 19 & 20th 1982 . It was great day and night and early morning..
"NASHVILLE'S A FINE TOWN, IF YOUR EVER THERE LOOK US UP"
When John and Marie told us that in '82, going to Nashville was probably the last place we would of ever considered moving to. But a series of drastic events led us there five years down the road. One thing about John and his music, it had a unique way of bringing people together. I think probably because it just made you feel good...no matter if it was one of his zany tunes or a heartfelt waltz. The players he exposed to the world through the years after Aereo Plain...Man they just gravitated towards him. Sam Bush, Benny Martin, Kenny Malone, Buddy Emmons, Mark O'Conner, Mark Howard and Roy Huskey......... It seemed with each new Hartford Album there were some great new musicians to learn about. Gum Tree Canoe became an instant favorite of mine and besides the musicians it turned me onto producer Cowboy Jack Clement and engineer Rich Adler.
What ultimately brought us to Nashville though was the desire on my part to become a full time songwriter. To do that, you needed to write commercially marketable songs. I found myself straying a bit from the music I really liked and trying to compromise the wide variety of stuff I had absorbed over 40 years. Songwriters like Porter, Carmichael, Leiber and Stoller, Carol King, Jimmy Webb and John Hartford..... The music of big band, swing, rockabilly, rock and roll, jazz, folk, bluegrass, new acoustic, with what the "market" would bear. When we arrived in the spring of '87 though Nashville was really growing musically, and there were still lots of different sounds hitting the airwaves. The major labels were signing acts that had a uniqueness to them. Roseanne Cash, Foster & Lloyd, The O'Kanes, Michael Johnson, Steve Earle. All had something to say and all said it differently. John even found himself back on a major label for a time there, but soon wanted off of it. I'd soon find out why myself.
They told me when I came to Nashville, it could
take five to ten years before anything might happen. I guess I
was lucky because I wasn't in town too long, when things started
to click. Though I do recall my first visits with song publishers.
"You have something here, but I'm not sure what......you
need to co write and write more formula" I would counter
with "The biggest copyright in this whole town is "Gentle
On My Mind" show me the formula there?
A demo of an "unformulated" song I had written back in Florida caused Joe Diffie, a newcomer to get signed to a major label. Soon after Joe took another song I had co- written up to the top of the charts. This all happened in the course of two years and I found myself emerged in the commercial songwriting merry go round and running in different circles. I didn't get to see much of John except when he played at the Station Inn.
OLD HAT & WATERGATE
It wasn't too long after I had reached the so called pinnacle of commercial success in Nashville, that I noticed something didn't feel right. There were countless encouragements from too many industry folks to repeat myself. And then the music started getting STALE fast. I soon found myself distancing from it, regardless that it was bringing in some substantial income. My co writing circle shrunk to a few folks I could relate to; mainly Austin Church, and Walter Hyatt. Austin threw out the song title Old Hat at me one day. A short time later the angle came as I turned off an obnoxious radio personality selling the concept of New Country.
I had written most of the first verse and chorus when I called Austin. He came up with another verse, called me back and we thought we had it nailed down. I have a small studio in my apartment and that same day another new major label signee was doing some demo work for me. He heard it and wanted a copy to play for his producer. When I made a guitar -vocal work tape of it and played it back there was a gaping hole in the second verse. It was like Rosemary Woods (Nixons Secretary) had accidentally hit the record button and erased part of it like the Watergate Tapes. But this was a very clean edit. It started on a line and ended on a line. Hanging on a closet door in the studio is two posters, one of Norman Blake's Rising Fawn Trio and the other one of John, that is posted on here. I found myself staring at him while I contemplated the mystery of the missing lines. That's when it hit me and I replaced them with what was staring right back at me. "That Dusty Derby....Hangin' Over There.....Is It The Kind That The Hat Acts Used To Wear" !!! I WAS JAZZED....I CALLED AUSTIN...HE WAS JAZZED.....IT WAS DEMO TIME..... I was so jazzed about it that I wanted to do it in a full fledged studio with my favorite Nashville engineer...Richard Adler. I became aware of Rich through my Hartford record collection and he was also on lots of my other favorite sounding records.
Old Hat was not like anything Nashville was doing in '92. And I had no plans to alter it to try and make it fit. It was a folky melody set to a lyric that lamented what was already happening to the music industry here. I had long been accused of putting the "wrong" instruments on my demos like saxes and clarinets, so why stop now. I heard a banjo on it.....MY GOD A BANJO ...BLASPHEMY OF THE HIGHEST ORDER. Banjo jokes ran rampant in the Nashville Studio Scene. But not just any banjo a LOW BANJO that I first heard on John's Morning Bugle record in 1970's and would hear more of when he and Greg Deering came up with the Hartford Timber Tone model. I used to sell them in my store and if I was a banjo player I wouldn't use anything but.
We called John but he was not available right then. ( I remember it took a year to get him booked in my club) I really didn't want to wait, so I went in the studio with Roy Huskey on bass, Fred Carpenter on fiddle and myself on guitar. We set down a track that a banjo could always be added to later. My new buddy Doug Wayne sang it and we had a very presentable recording. So presentable that producer Kyle Lehning put a hold on it for Randy Travis almost immediately. A hold is when someone tells you they are seriously considering recording it so please do not pitch the song to anyone else. Like most "holds" it didn't pan out. Perhaps Randy didn't want the association of being thought of as Old Hat, but by Nashville's Standards he already was......just like the local comic strip character Haddis Heyday......Heydays were getting very short in Nashville....acts that lasted more than two years were old timers.
Hey Old Timer , Bring Me A Beer
I've Got To Say It's Quite A Place You Have Here
How Old's This Jukebox ? Does It Still Play ?
I Don't See No Songs I Hear Today
Who's Jimmie Rodgers ? Who's
Uncle Dave ?
Dropped In Two Nickels , Don't Ya Know The Darn Thing Played
A Scratchy Sound, Filled The Air
A Gentle Voice Sang Of Ribbons For Her Hair
Don't You Know That That,...
Is Just Old Hat
Songs From The Past, That Will Last
When We're Gone
Straight From The Heart, They Played Their Part
Son , Old Hat Is what Made Your Country Strong
So Long Old Timer, I Got To Hit
I Need To Ask You , One More Thing 'For I Go
That Dusty Derby, Hangin' Over There
Is It The Kind, The Hat Acts Used To Wear ?
He Took It Down, Flipped It On
Sang Me A Good One, Took A Bow
And He Was Gone
As His Place Grew Smaller, In My Rearview Mirror
His Last Song , Kept On Playin'
Pure And Clear
Don't You Know That That.....Is Just Old Hat
© 1992 Austin Church, Ken Spooner
1994 was a year of some major changes in my
life. I was rapidly dropping out of Music Row and was turning
my attentions toward writing a book. That would occupy most of
the next two years. Then on May 31st, doctors gave me some lousy
news. Basically it was get your affairs in order time. You might
have have a year or two left. I kept it to myself for probably
much longer than I should have.
That July I went with Anne and my son Erik
to the Ryman to see John resurrect the Aereo Plain band. I think
it was the first concert at the newly refurbished Ryman I had
taken in. I had seen Emmy Lou and her Nash Ramblers there in the
old un air conditioned place a few years before. John had been
able to get everyone but Norman Blake together and the sub was
Tony Rice....not too shabby.....Vassar, John, Tut, Tony and the
Heartbeat of America Roy Huskey, playing Steamboat Whistle Blues
and chasing mine off. I could close my eyes and I was back in
the Cafe Au Go Go twenty four years ago.
I finished one book and started another, thereby
kind of tuning out all together on the music biz. Most of my catalog
went into mothballs. One of my songs The Sheik Of Shboom that
I had written with both Austin Church and Walter Hyatt was recorded
in May of '96. It would be Walter's last recording as he died
in the Valu Jet disaster a week after that. From that point on
most of my music stuff centered around what I did with Walter.
The illness kind of kept me home a lot, so I missed out on a lot
of the good live music that gets played in town here on a regular
The fact that I'm writing this in 2001 some
5 years past my expiration date tells you the doctors were a little
off on their original guesstimate....but one thing I've learned
is we are all terminal, and we really don't have too much to say
about our schedules. In
May of '99 we suddenly lost another real original character, Shel
Silverstein. John and Marie held a unique memorial service on
the grounds of their riverside home. Though I would speak
with John on the phone again, this would be the last time we actually
saw each other. He asked me how I was doing and I said "I'm
Still Here" which was a Hartford song I first heard on John's
"Housing Project " RCA album in the '60's. The version
he cut in the '80's on Gum Tree Canoe really caught my ear and
I added in my ever growing Hartford repertoire.
When Benny Martin passed away earlier this year, Terry Bulger of NBC affiliate WSMV interviewed John and when I saw him I knew the end was coming. I didn't learn that he was receiving guests at his home till near the very end. Rich Adler had called me and said he was out there and was planning to go back the week that John went into the hospital. I was going to go with him, but I was too late. John passed away on Monday afternoon June 4. In fact, I was in the kitchen preparing supper when I heard John singing Gentle On My Mind on the evening news. I knew what had happened.
There certainly was a lot of life to celebrate there. Richard Adler and I went to the first visitation on Weds. afternoon at the Hartford home. We sat for quite awhile on one of John's riverbank verandahs. A tow boat came down the river pushing some empty barges up river towards town.....and I thought of what a life this guy had. He did it his way...all the way through. There is a park across the river bank and I recalled my very first days in Nashville taking Erik, who was only three at the time and wondering who lived in that neat yellow rambling place across the river. I'd soon find out and it all made perfect sense. If half the world could know the peace and tranquility of the Hartford home, world peace would be a no brainer. We went inside to pay our respects to Marie. I could tell Richard wasn't dealing to well with it. When your in the unique predicament that I've been in for 7 years now, death has a different perspective....you still feel the loss and the sadness, but the only way I can describe it without trying to sound flip is. "It's kind of like standing on the fantail of the Titanic...you know your sunk...you just don't know when the water will be over your head." Anyway Richard told me he didn't think he could attend Fridays service. I know how that feels too. My wife Anne was in Greece that week and I couldn't tell her when she would call home to ask how everything was going.
THE FUNERAL THAT WASN'T
Terry Bulger who does a fine series called "Back Roads" on TV called it that. He was there with a crew and filmed the music part of the celebration. The fact that he was able to edit it and have a 3 minute segment on the 6 O 'clock evening news that truly captured the essence of that afternoon is amazing. But as Terry would tell me a few days later, " The desire to achieve excellence is even greater, when the subject matter consistently defined the word"
The turnout was huge for someone as low keyed as John was. It just showed the impact he had on peoples lives. I do hope that the music portion, which was filmed by at least two crews, will someday become available to the public. There was a large tent that held several hundred people and many others were seated under the big old trees that shade the property. Mark Howard started off with John's beautiful Presbyterian Guitar and the sound was purely amazing. I thought to myself Whomever picked the songs ( I heard it was Chris Sharp ) out really knows what they are doing....but then again how about the songwriter who created them?
The Nashville Bluegrass Band, whom John played for at a benefit when they were in a bad bus crash a dozen years back offered up "Old Time Riverman" Alan O'Bryant had a tough time getting through the vocal but it didn't matter...the spirit was soaring and so was the sound of his banjo. Bob Carlin who had worked with John on various projects did a great old time tune with his Squirrel Jumpers. When Sam Bush tore into Steam Powered Aereo Plane with Vassar just burning it up and Tut , Grissman and more steady at the wheel the place went nuts. Like Terry said, It was a funeral that wasn't and don't you think that the grand master himself wanted it that way? Eddie Stubbs, WSM Disk jockey and champion of real country and bluegrass music acted as the MC. When he introduced Earl Scruggs, the surviving member of Flatt and Scruggs , he told the story that John credited with "changing his life" when he first heard them live in St. Louis in 1952. Earl and company let "Flint Hill Special" rip for John one last time.
The energy lift was like a shot of morphine....WHOA HANG ON. Bassist Mark Schatz did the Hartford Shuffle on the piece of plywood set out for the occasion. There was applause for each instrumental break and applause after each song. Who better than Emmy Lou Harris to reminded us of the loss though, when she went into a mournful ballad with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. It would be a sad old world without some good old boys and girls. For a good 40 minutes or so, it was just one great Hartford song after another. The Hartford String Ensemble, that sweet 3 fiddle sound accented several songs. Jon Yudkin proudly wore his Derby. As the music progressed, I thought to myself John has left it in good hands....real good hands and it's a comfort to know it will last past the time we're all gone. Then they all assembled and when Allison Brown kicked off Gentle On My Mind...it was choke up time for Ken and probably many more. Tim O'Brien didn't choke as he sang what might of been the finest rendition I ever heard. It was a standing ovation......
Then they let whomever wanted to, get up and speak to the crowd. Some great stories were told from his peers, family, friends and fans. Sam Bush told of how his mandolin got to be so ugly when John and Norman Blake decided the finish on it was too thick. Norman commenced to taking a pocket knife to it while John announced the play by play into a tape recorder. Sam: "You can hear the knife cutting in as John announces, "Norman is now rounding the treble F hole" I could feel George Gruhn, who was in the crowd shudder. Sam also told the tale of when they all were on tour and staying in a swanky hotel in Philadelphia that the matrie'd refused to let John go in the dining room without a jacket and tie. So 150 pound John borrows a jacket from Tut Taylor, who is built like linebacker. When it got real hot John asked the matrie'd if he could take off his jacket. When the answer was no John took off his T shirt.
There were reminiscences from the crew of The Julia Belle Swain, the steamboat John worked on for many years. John's daughter Katie told us that her first memory of her father was when she was around three years old. She reminded those of us who had the Aereo Plain album to think about the cover photo....
Then we heard voices singing in the distance coming from the riverbank. An entire choir marched up twoards the tent and we all sang "I' ll Fly Away" and for a few minutes we did......
Eddie Stubbs, also said the words that needed to be said at the graveyard. Though I thought John would of been buried on the riverbank at his home, he's just down the river in Springhill Cemetery near the waters edge. Perhaps that was a consideration for the fans who will be visiting I'm sure. We were all invited back to the home afterwards. At first I planned on heading home, but as I walked back to the car, I struck up a conversation with a friendly face. I noticed his plate said Texas and we wound up swapping a few stories and he said, C'mon back to the house, His name is Al Mouledous and he was a classical violinist, till he heard John Hartford. They became friends over the years. I pulled out of Springhill Cemetery with Aero-Plain cranked up in my tape deck and the windows rolled down. Turn your radio on.......
Back at the house I got to spend a little time with Marie and she told me how John said when they bought the place ( it was no more than a fishing shack ) he would build her a dream house. "He Did It... just took awhile." They were married on the property in 1980 and she plans to stay on there. Later on we went into the parlor to watch Terry's story on the news with a handful of friends and family. She was really touched by the piece, Terry and his crew assembled and by the way the entire day turned out. "John had planned it all for years and when we did the thing for Shel, he was so delighted with how that came off he asked if I would do that for him"
Folks had set up little picking groups across the property. I wandered around for a bit met Shel Silverstein's relatives including his son who is around my son's age. There was a group from the Julia Belle Swain "THE BUNCH OF OLD HIPPIES FOR A CREW" that John sang about on Mark Twang, gathered on the river bank and I got to hear some great stories as they passed around a jug. It's contents were crystal clear and tasted like Scotch and Anisette. Shine On ...Shine On Nashville Moon. I told them how I felt from a musical perspective that John had the rhythm of the river in his soul so deep that it always came out in everything he did. It was getting dark at the riverside and I headed for home some seven hours after I got there.....Like Terry said it was a funeral that wasn't.
John was gone just a little more than a week when the film "Down From The Mountain" opened here. It's the concert -documentary that was made about the artists that did the soundtrack for Oh Brother Where Art Though. Filmed at the Ryman last year, it would become John's last big show he performed in town. As Master of Ceremonies he is Genuine Hartford through and through even though he was being taken from us by non Hodgkins Lymphoma. When he launched into Man Of Constant Sorrow on his solo fiddle it's if I got to say goodby to him again. Take Care John, Tell Roy I said Hey.