The John Hartford Fiddle Tune Project

by | 9 Dec, 2020

It’s one thing to pay tribute to John Hartford, the award-winning songwriter, newgrass pioneer, and old-time fiddler, but it’s a whole other story to actually continue his legacy by bringing life to his original, never-before-heard material. The John Hartford Fiddle Tune Project, Volume 1 does just that with the help of some of the world’s greatest bluegrass and acoustic musicians, all lifetime fans of Hartford’s music and a few even former members of his band.

Now nominated for the Recording Academy’s Best Bluegrass Album of the Year, this loving collection of Hartford’s long-lost fiddle tunes honours his insatiable creativity and passion for one of the instruments on which Bluegrass was built. Strong female musicians are well-represented in this celebration which gathers from all corners of the genre, including up and coming torch-bearers and a number of modern legends in their own right.

After Hartford passed away in 2001, his family discovered over two-thousand original, hand-written fiddle tune charts in file cabinets under his desk, and in time, the idea for a way to honour Hartford’s passion came to fruition. Nashville-based fiddler Matt Combs spent months lovingly pouring over Hartford’s journals and notes to compile resources for what would become The John Hartford Fiddle Tune Project, Volume 1, of which the following cast of musicians played a part:

  • Matt Combs, Brittany Haas, Megan Lynch Chowning, Tim O’Brien, Shad Cobb, Forrest and Kate Lee O’Connor, Ronnie McCoury, Sierra Hull, Mike Compton, Tristan Scroggins, Dominick Leslie, Jan Fabricius, Noam Pikelny, Alison Brown, Mark Howard, Chris Eldridge, Rachel Combs, Chris Sharp, Jordan Tice, Dennis Crouch, Paul Kowert, Mike Bub, and Kristin Andreassen.
  • Producer: Matt Combs; Executive Producer: Katie Harford Hogue
  • Engineers: Cameron Davidson, Alex Skelton, Li Hogue, Justin Moses

John Hartford

When John Hartford died in 2001, we lost a musical voice and first-rate humorist whose songwriting carried us down the Mississippi on riverboats and whose musical genius is with us still, in his songs and in the modern-day musicians he’s inspired. It’s our good fortune that he left behind a treasure trove – No Depression.

Despite his aversion to pop and commercial music, everyone who knew Hartford insists he would be amused by this late-period renaissance of his music – Rolling Stone.

More About John Hartford:

John Hartford was an American original. He was a musician, songwriter, steamboat pilot, author, artist, disc jockey, calligrapher, dancer, folklorist, father, and historian.

Born John Cowan Harford in New York on December 30, 1937, John grew up in St. Louis. He was a descendent of Patrick Henry and cousin of Tennessee Williams. His grandfather was a founder of the Missouri Bar Association and his father was a prominent doctor.

At an early age, John fell in love with two things: music and the Mississippi River. They were passions that would last his lifetime, and their pursuit would be his life’s passage.

In 1965 he moved to Nashville. The following year he was signed to RCA Records by the legendary Chet Atkins. It was Atkins who convinced John to add a “t” to his last name, becoming John Hartford. In 1967 his second RCA release Earthwords & Music featured the single Gentle on My Mind, a song Hartford wrote after seeing the movie Dr. Zhivago. That year, the song earned four Grammy awards. Hartford would take home two awards, one as the writer and one for his own recording of the song. The other two went to Glen Campbell who had heard Hartford’s version on the radio and decided to record it. Campbell’s rendition became an instant classic, and the song became one of the most recorded and performed songs of all time, covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin.

Hartford often said that Gentle On My Mind bought his freedom. He used that freedom to explore his various creative curiosities, and was usually happy to take his friends along on the trip.

In 1968 John Hartford left Nashville for Los Angeles, where he played on the Byrds’ classic album, Sweethearts of the Rodeo. He became a regular guest and contributor on CBS’s Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. He would also earn his riverboat pilot’s license by the end of the decade.

John Hartford became mentor and mystic for a generation of pickers, singers, and songwriters. His landmark record, Aereo-plain (1971) documented his work with Vassar Clements, Norman Blake, and Tut Taylor. Rooted firmly in tradition but sprouting at the top with hippie hair, the group’s instrumental mastery and free-wheeling style bridged a musical gap between traditional bluegrass and a progressive new audience, making every song a cult favorite and every live performance the thing of legend.

Without Aereo-plain, there would be no ‘newgrass’ music – Sam Bush.