My Memories of John Hartford by Bob Carlin

University Press of Mississippi has announced the release of a new book by old time banjo master Bob Carlin, entitled My Memories of John Hartford.

It’s a memoir of the friendship between Carlin and the late John Hartford, one of the most influential bluegrass or old time artists of the 20th century. A fiddler, banjo player, singer, and songwriter, John was at once both a fierce defender of traditional ways, and a pioneer of what became newgrass music in the 1970s. Television made him a star, alongside Glen Campbell who recorded Hartford’s Gentle On My Mind.

The song was a career-defining moment for both men, and when Campbell was given a summer replacement TV series in 1968, he invited Hartford to join him for a recurring two man acoustic segment with John on banjo and Glen on guitar. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour became a permanent series and ran until 1972.

After leaving Campbell’s show Hartford recorded his own breakout album, Aereo-Plain in 1971, which has been described as the first newgrass album, released the same year that Sam Bush formed New Grass Revival.

Hartford became the biggest draw on the bluegrass festival circuit throughout the ’70s, and performed his one man shows as a headlining act at colleges and theaters as well. He would bring out a piece of birch plywood, with a pickup mounted to it, which he use to amplify his dance steps as accompaniment to his banjo, fiddle, and vocals. These shows were absolutely riveting in their intensity, and no one ever wanted to follow John Hartford to the stage.

University Press included this thumbnail description of Bob’s book.

Carlin and Hartford first met when Carlin interviewed the entertainer for Fresh Air with Terry Gross. From this first meeting over microphones developed a sixteen-year affiliation. Six years into their friendship, a working collaboration grew between the two.

My Memories of John Hartford opens with an overview of the years before Hartford and Carlin’s friendship, then details the last fifteen years of John Hartford’s life. Included are in-depth descriptions of Hartford’s lifestyle, as well as his philosophies about music, performing, recording, and living as he expressed them to the author or to those around him, with some road stories thrown in for good measure.

And, those last fifteen years of his short life, while tempered by available information, are viewed here through the impressionist lenses of the author’s own experience.

John was an extremely complicated man who avoided the limelight. He spent a large portion of his later years working as a river pilot, not because he needed a job. He owned property all over the country bought with song royalties. The life and the experience of being a river pilot just appealed to him that much, as did the arduous training required to learn the skills.

My Memories of John Hartford is available now from University Press of Mississippi, in either paper or hard back editions.

No true fan of Hartford’s will want to miss this book.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.