Friday, April 23, 2010


I found this while researching the Hartford tune "Smoke, Shit, & Fuck," and decided it was worthy of a repost. I'm not even sure who wrote it, but I really enjoyed reading it and i'm glad whoever wrote it went to the trouble to put it on the internet.


"I am writing this to help me remember and to share with others what transpired on September 25th 1999, the date of John Hartford's appearance at the "River of Time" 1800’s era re-enactment event that is held in Veterans Park in Bay City, Michigan. The show was excellent, the weather was excellent, John and his band played on the front porch of a log cabin that's in the park, built in the early 1800's. Every one of his shows is different; he played songs relevant to the theme of the event, old time songs, a French-Canadian folk song, and his own compositions that pertain to heritage and rivers. I had seen him play the night before in Ann Arbor in addition to four other times, the first being in March of 1998. I have been a fan of his since the 1970's when I was in college.

I became involved by suggesting to the event chairman that John Hartford would be a great addition to the entertainment program of the "River of Time". After contacting his agent, Keith Case & Associates, and passing the information on to the event chairman and then passing "River of Time" information on to John Hartford at one of his concerts, I had become somewhat of a liaison between John Hartford and the "River of Time" committee.

I had offered Hartford use of a vehicle to get around town while they were in Bay City. After the performance he took me up on the offer. The only van available on short notice was the one I was driving, I told Bob Carlin, who also acts as their road manager in addition to playing the banjo (Mike Compton, mandolin, and Larry Perkins, bass, are the drivers of the bus), that they were more than welcome to use it or I could drive them. He said if you're going to drive us you're going to join us for dinner!

We discussed where to eat, they wanted a really good meal, a nurse who attended the concert (who at the time happened to be massaging John's knee, that's a story in itself, the band performed sitting down because of John's bad knee) suggested Cafe Appareil, a local 5 star restaurant, John said "I love French food!" it was decided.

I called the restaurant to reserve a table, the soonest they could accommodate us was 8:00, it was 6:20, I explained the situation, "3 time Grammy Award winner wants a good meal before leaving town", still it was 8:00. I checked with another restaurant (a 3 star) that could handle us right away, I then informed Bob Carlin, who checked with John, who said he would wait 'till 8:00pm. I called the restaurant back and informed them that we would take the 8:00 table, I also forewarned them of dress code violations, jeans etc ... they said, "as long as the jeans were not ripped and they are wearing polo type shirts aren't they? And we do have a no smoking rule, and no hats are allowed." I told them that they were wearing t-shirts, I didn't know if their jeans were ripped, and that Mr. Hartford usually wears a hat, please don't kick him out if he is!

At dinner was John Hartford, Bob Carlin, Larry Perkins, Chris Sharp (guitar player), myself and my wife Janet, whom John greeted with, "you know my first love's name was Janet", what a smooth talker! Mike Compton stayed on the bus to sleep; he had the first driving duties. We walked into the restaurant looking like bums! I loved it! John was unshaven, wearing his derby hat, t-shirt and an unbuttoned plaid flannel shirt. Bob had his porkpie hat on, jacket and the thinnest old plain white t-shirt, he promptly removed his jacket and hat, looking like he was sitting in his underwear! Larry had on bib-jeans and a sport coat, he is the most polite, mild-mannered gentleman of them all (he said goodbye to my wife with..."thank you Miss Janet for the most lovely evening"), Chris Sharp had on a black "Elderly Instruments" t-shirt and jeans.

At dinner, which lasted 3 hours, we had the most interesting conversations! Which I will try to summarize below:

-Bob Carlin mentioned how in a similar restaurant in New York he met Eric Clapton who came over to the table because he recognized John, whom he knew.

-I mentioned seeing a Ray Charles concert recently and how impressed I was, John told a story about when Ray was on the Smothers Brothers Show and how he could pick out someone in the orchestra who was out of tune or playing the wrong note.

-John greeting Ben Keith (renowned steel-guitar player) in a restaurant in Nashville, then realizing Ben was dining with Neil Young, John doesn't know Neil's music well, but is very good friends with someone who worked on one of his Nashville albums (I forget who John said his name was). The guy who worked on the album made the comment to John how they had done soooo many hours of takes and hadn't got a final cut yet, I said that I had heard that Neil Young was very particular about what is released on record, John said "he's weird!" Bob Carlin said, "Yea, he's real weird".

-John noticed my wife Janet's care in choosing a good wine and said, “I see you like good wine, do you smoke grass", she said, "I haven't in almost 20 years", he said, "I just started again after not smoking for 20 years." "It helps my appetite, and my cancer doctor said it was alright". Which lead into a long discussion on marijuana vs. marijuana pills, and all his old songs about marijuana. (John said his cancer is under control, that we're going to have him around for many more years.)

-John said Louis Armstrong was one of the biggest pot smokers, he told a story about walking in on a tuning and scale discussion between Norman Blake and Armstrong, and pot smoke rolling out of the dressing room. Armstrong played on a lot of the same Mississippi River showboats that John played on in the mid-sixties.

-Bob Carlin, who is the producer of Johns last four CDs, mentioned working on a "part II"of his 1971 album "Aero-plain", of which he has been going through old session tapes of cuts that Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, Vassar Clements and Randy Scruggs played on. He mentioned there's a song that John does not want on the "part II" release, I asked what, he said if John wants to tell you he will. John asked Janet's permission to use foul language. John said it's a song called "Smoke Shit and Fuck", it's about smoking pot and screwing. John then proceeded to sing a few verses! He said it's a place he was at almost 30 yrs ago and it just doesn't pertain any more, and he also feels that kind of language is uncalled for!
John said there's a version of "Presbyterian Guitar" with a rhythm section (mandolin etc ..), a "Vamp in the Middle" with only the vamp … Bob said, "doing that "Hey Jude" thing with it" … and there's a lot of bluegrass on tape that Bromberg (the producer) did not want on the original, he had a very specific vision of the first "Aero-Plain".

-John's family had property on Lake Michigan just south of Traverse City, by Beulah, which had been in the family for over a hundred years. The property was his grandfather's who he said was very well to do and a very religious man, he wasn't a minister but he hung out with ministers from the St.Louis area who went to a religious retreat up by Traverse City. He was almost in tears discussing how a cousin inherited it and wanted to sell it to him for way too much money, when he refused she sold it to someone else, he said there were a lot of memories there with his grandparents and was just heartbroken about it. (He said people think he has a lot more money than he actually has.)

-Bob Carlin mentioned how he collects Beatles bootlegs (I said you don't BUY them do you!) he said are you going to scold me if I do, which led to a discussion on taping of concerts (which John has no problem with, wish I would have known, I would have had the local sound board guy do a tape). I told him I collect audience recordings of concerts that are traded, not sold, and that I had a lot of Neil Young shows. Bob mentioned Neil Young's archives being delayed again, I mentioned how good the last tour was, he said he has seen him once, right after the "Trans" album was released and didn't like the show. Bob also mentioned the Buffalo Springfield box set (he obviously follows the man) John said, "Neil Young was in Buffalo Springfield wasn't he", which lead to a discussion on who all was in the band and other southern California country rock of the '60's, John mentioned the name of a band he was real familiar with from that era that I had never heard of. (John played on the Byrds "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album.)

-John's children took him to the Sept. 8th Bob Dylan/Paul Simon concert in Antioch, Tenn., which is by Nashville. He enjoyed it.

-Son Jamey Hartford had a band called "The Musical Whores", and is currently playing with the Everly Bros.

-His daughter is married and lives in Texas.

-John and his wife love Victorian Magazine and their house is "filled with all that kind of shit". John and my wife had a lengthily discussion about "that kind of shit" that she also loves.

-He likes fusion jazz, John McLaughlin etc…we discussed Jean Luc Ponty (the fusion jazz violinist), he doesn't like his newer stuff, loves the album with the song "New Country" on it (Imaginary Voyage), and likes the song on that album that goes..(he makes the note sounds with his I told him that the best concert I had ever heard and seen was Jean-Luc Ponty at Warriner Auditorium in Mt Pleasant in 1976, which lead to a discussion on small auditoriums and acoustics, John has played Warriner Auditorium.

-Frank Zappa was a little too far out for him, I mentioned that before he died he was working with the Chieftains. Celtic Zappa! He said that would have been interesting. (Jean-Luc Ponty played with Zappa in the early '70's)

-There was a long discussion by the band members about the French-Canadian reel they played called " Reel d'Issoudun ", a musical discussion on how it should be played; it was over my head! I did comment on how much I liked it! That my mother is 100% French-Canadian so it must be in my blood.

-Bob Carlin asked what my favorite Hartford album was, I told him "Old Long Bow". John said, "Bless you son, you just made me the happiest man in the world…that album I put more of myself into than anything I've done, we spent more than 4 years on that!" Bob asked what I like about it, I said it's just great pure kick-ass jamming! They said, "thank you!" Bob asked what album I like after that (he said to excuse his inquisitiveness, but as a producer it's rare when he gets a chance to question a serious fan of John's). I told him after "Old Long Bow" it would have to be "Mark Twain", it's the first Hartford album I bought over 20 years ago, it's a great album and has a lot of sentimental value also.

-Referring to the "My first loves name was Janet" statement, I asked if the song on the "Aero-Plain" album "The First Girl I Loved" was about a girl named Janet, he said no. His first TRUE loves name was Janet, that the song was about "when I was very young and it's actually about my cousin, you know the line in the song that goes"…he couldn't remember it right off so he sings from the beginning till he gets to “the laws of nature said forget it son" .. "that's what that means" he said. "I'm too close to the line as it is, you know I'm my own first cousin! My Grandmothers were related."

John handed me a 3x5 card and asked for my address and phone number, he then wrote out his address and phone number on a 3x5 and gave it to me. I also got to shake his hand, which he rarely allows people to do. The first time I approached him in 1998 for an autograph I offered my hand to him and he said he didn't shake hands but would be happy to “do-sa-do” me and offered his elbow to lock my elbow with like you would do square dancing, which I did and was probably more thrilled with that than a hand shake at the time. But it was now a great pleasure to finally shake his hand and look him in the eye and thank him for all the wonderful music!

On the drive back to the bus John was going through my CD's in my van and commented on:
-Natalie Mac Master ...she's a great Celtic fiddle player, see her live if you get a chance.
-Gillian Welch .... just had dinner with her last week.
-Steve Earle, the Mountain ..... the Roy Husky Jr. tribute cut was all overdubbed, non-of them were in the studio together.
-Bob Carlin checked out my 5-20-99 Neil Young at the Fox bootleg CD.

11:00 pm back at the bus Mike Compton is just waking up; John and Bob invite me in to get a signed poster of the band and to get a signed picture of John to take back to the restaurant. On the bus were old concert posters that caught my attention, I wish I could remember more about the place that John called home for a good portion of his life … on the road.

That's it in a nutshell ......... what a night!!"

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