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Smithsonian Institution
Midwestern CrossroadsAmericans Old and NewMidwestern CrossroadsSouthern FusionLouisiana, Where Music is King
John Hartford

 
John Hartford has made a career of the Mississippi River. Though best known as the writer of "Gentle On My Mind" and as one of the most innovative and quirky bandleaders and musicians in the country/bluegrass world, he has long maintained a parallel existence as a Mississippi riverboat pilot. Hartford grew up in St. Louis listening to stories and songs of the old steamboating days. His musical impulse came from seeing Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs's trendsetting bluegrass band, and from the old-time dances that were still being held in the area during his youth in the 1950s. He later moved to the West Coast, where he became a regular on the Smothers Brothers television show, and on to Nashville, where he put together a band featuring Vassar Clements and Norman Blake that became the cutting edge of a "new traditionalist" movement on the country scene.
       Today, Hartford lives most of the year in Nashville, still writing songs and touring on the concert circuit. Every summer, though, he comes back to the river. "Working as a pilot is a labor of love," he says. "After a while, it becomes a metaphor for a whole lot of things, and I find for some mysterious reason that if I stay in touch with it, things seem to work out all right."
       Along with his own compositions, Hartford is a voluminous repository of old river songs, calls, and stories. He can spend hours talking about the glory days of steamboating, or demonstrate the lead calls that the river's most famous chronicler took as his name, "Mark Twain" (or "two fathoms"). A virtuoso fiddler and banjo player, Hartford remains simultaneously an innovative voice on the country scene and a thrilling reminder of a vanished era.

Related Links

        A plethora of John Hartford info at this Website
 
 

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