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About the video
John Hartford signing "Wrong Road Again"
About the artist
John Hartford - songwriter, banjoist, fiddler and riverboat pilot. On December 30,
1937 he was born in New York City into an old Missouri family, and was in fact
raised in St. Louis County, Missouri. His love for music and the river was
nourished early in his life. His parents went to old time square dances in that part
of Missouri and knew many of the old time fiddlers. His early love for the river
was fostered largely by his fifth grade teacher, Miss Ruth Ferris, who was a local
St. Louis institution on all things river. Her love and enthusiasm for the boats and
the river were infectious and John was bitten for life, continuing his friendship
with Miss Ferris until her passing many decades later.
Having learned fiddle and banjo at an early age, it was the local musicians
around him, as well as the music of Flatt and Scruggs, that contributed to his
inspiration and his respect for music. It was a respect he never lost. His very last
studio recording was an album of the old Missouri fiddle tunes that he played
while he was growing up. And as much as he was drawn to the music, it was the
RIVER that was calling to him. As soon as he could, he went to work on the
Steamer Delta Queen and then spent time with a couple of towing companies.
But, he discovered (in his own words) that he was too “artsy crafty” to make
towboating his profession, and the music won over.
During the following years, John went from being a DJ to being a prolific
songwriter. With Glen Campell’s recording of John’s “Gentle on my Mind,” he
relocated to California where he wrote comedy for the Smothers Brothers Show,
was a regular on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and was approached to
start his own TV show. Well on the climb to what many would consider
commercial success, he left California behind and moved back to Nashville,
Tennessee and the river.
In 1971, he met Captain Dennis Trone, who owned the Julia Belle Swain, and
started to steer for him while working on his Pilots license. It was a friendship that
lasted until John’s death. John now had the best of both worlds: the music and
In Nashville, John became friends with many of the musical heroes of his youth,
such as Earl Scruggs, Benny Martin and Bill Monroe. He continued to write,
record and tour. In the span of his years, he won three grammies, wrote a
childrens book, got his pilots license, and was constantly researching anything
that interested him. He fronted two of the most innovative ensembles in
bluegrass/ newgrass/ old-time string band history; The Aereoplane Band and the
Hartford String band (in his later years).
His love for the music and the river was surpassed only by the respect he held
for the “oldtimers” in those fields. When he finally succumbed to lymphoma in
June of 2001, he left a void that will never be filled.