Memories of John Hartford
Last night John Hartford was inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame. His family accepted the award for him. His son Jamie indicated he mighta been a little more comfortable with a mandolin strung around his neck. I understand! Jamie and his Dad did some fine CDs together. My favorite was “Hartford and Hartford.” Indie and I both loved “When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland.”
Hartford’s daughter said she was uncertain of what to say, and that her Dad always knew the right words. She indicated she treasured the old John Hartford stories, so I thought I’d share mine.
Way back when I was a young doctor who played in an obscure band (I haven’t changed except you can delete the word young) we got on the bill for an Earl Scruggs Appreciation Day, and John Hartford was the headliner. Man, he didn’t just play his show but he jammed with us half the night. He made the event all by his board tapping fiddling self. We had been hooked on Hartford before that night, but after that we fell in love. From then on for us he was a legend.
I wrote John afterwards and thanked him for such a memorable time. He sent me a signed copy of his Gum Tree Canoe LP. It’s still a treasure in our home; a memento we’ll pass on to our children.
He didn’t stop there, though. Come Christmas a letter arrived from Nashville, Tennessee. I could hardly believe it; an invitation to John Hartford’s Christmas party! Me and all the boys loaded up, and the next thing you know there we were in his home eating chili and picking music with the likes of Marty Stuart and Bill Monroe, Elmer Bird of Turkey Creek, Benny Martin, Fletcher Bright and many, many more. I got the notion a lot of people there were just like me; people who John Hartford had run into in his wide travels and invited into his home. We went to a couple of those parties; what a music memory for us.
I always remember John in those derby hats and the vests where’d he’d put index cards he always took notes on. His daughter said he saved thousands of them. She pulled out one last night and read it. I broke into tears with the first words. It was my favorite John Hartford quote. “Bluegrass is the last American small town where everyone knows everyone and we don’t have to lock our doors.” It has long been my favorite John Hartford concept. Our music and the kind of people who love it are an American treasure, and John was too; one of the most original American artists of all time regardless of genre.
When she started her talk, John’s daughter indicated she wasn’t sure what to say. Through her Dad, she found exactly the right words for this old Doc. Through his stories, John Hartford will live forever; he was that unique. Yesterday Tom T. Hall said it was important for an artist to have identity. John Hartford sure had that. You knew who he was as soon as he began to tune up the board. There will never be another quite like him, and I sure am proud I knew him.
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