Over John Hartford’s career he was a singer, songwriter, TV personality, and river boat captain. From the “Smothers Brothers” to “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”, John had a unique and laconic stage presence.
His love for traditional Appalachian music was evident in the last stages of his life. He toured with the Down From the Mountain ensemble until non-Hodgkins Lymphoma robbed him of the ability to perform.
His album “Aero-Plain” is credited by many as being the inspiration for Newgrass music and is one of the early super groups in bluegrass with Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, and Vassar Clements providing the supporting cast.
Posthumous recipient of the Presidents Award by the Americana Music Society, John wrote hundreds of songs and recorded more than 30 albums crossing multiple genres. Hartford is probably best known for writing “Gentle On My Mind”, the song that essentially launched Glen Campbell’s career. In addition to the Glen Campbell hit, “Gentle On My Mind” has been recorded by Dean Martin, Aretha Franklin, Patti Page, The Band, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Benny Hill, Johnny Cash, and even Leonard Nimoy. (Yep, that’s right. You know you have it made when Spock croaks out your song. I guess Shatner didn’t quite have the range. But I digress.)
In any event, here is one of my favorite versions of this song featuring some of the greatest bluegrass musicians touring today. Tim O’Brien has an effortless manner to his playing that always reminds me of John Hartford. Here is to an originator of bluegrass music and one of his best known compositions.