Marty's Thoughts on the late John Hartford, June 2001

The legendary songwriter, musician and fiddle player, John Hartford, passed away on June 4, 2001. Eddie Stubbs and WSM-AM Radio in Nashville hosted a tribute show on John on June 5. Marty was one of the artists calling in to share their memories of John. Here are his comments on John.

"The first time I remember seeing John was at Bean Blossom at about 1971. He and Norman Blake and Tut Taylor, all those guys were up there. Then we played a concert with him when I was with Lester Flatt over at Vanderbilt University. That's when we became buddies. I took him to the Martha White Radio Shows with me from time to time, but down through the years, John and I would usually take one day a year and just hang out all day long. One day a year. I have a lot of memorable days in the past years thinking about hanging out with John."

"The last time that I saw John, two or three weeks ago over at his house. He was really sick and could barely talk. They'd brought him back home. He'd wrote this song years ago called "I'm Still Here," and there really wasn't much that we were saying that night so I eked over real close to him when the room got real quiet and the words are 'Trains are running toward each other,' and he came back and said, 'Shotguns are pointed at my head.' I said, 'Tornado clouds are forming over the crossroads.' He said, "H-bombs are falling over my bed." I said, 'Your turn.' The line was "I'm still here, I'm still here." and I said, "Yes you are." And so, we went out talking songwriting. The last conversation we had, we were talking about one of his songs."

"The first thing that comes to my mind is a statement that I heard somebody make the other day on some program. They talked about losing an artist of any kind. The thing that's so sad about losing a pure artist is you lose their perspective on things. And I think anybody that knew John would agree that to lose John, we've lost the most absolute introspective perspective that you could have had on music and form of folk culture and a form of American culture. I think what happened now is that all those records and performances, and writings and drawings and everything that John did throughout his life, the same thing is about to happen to him that John did to everybody else. John spent years and years and years researching and chronicling other artists, whether it was a fiddle player or some guy who wrote songs, or a riverboat captain, whatever. Whatever he set his interest on, he was a great investigator. And I have a feeling now that years and years worth of John Hartford's music and art that will be studied and remembered and performed throughout the world."

"I used to kid him. I said 'Man, you went to 1930 and sat down and hung out there.' I think he really enjoyed being pretty much a radio star. You had to go see Hartford the same way you would have to have gone and seen Riley Bucket or Jimmie Rodgers or Stephen Foster to really get the full impact of it. And that record was simply something that you bought at the record label to come home and remember it by. He was very much a visual artist, but he's one of those guys that his records will mean more now than they ever have."

"He was an innovator in so many ways. This day and time, several people are coming around to the fact that to get your records heard, you have to go to be an independent source. As a businessman, he's been doing that as long as anybody in this town. He was the consummate mom-and-pop businessman and a great businessman at that. The fact that he controlled his music and whatever was going on in his heart and his head and his mind at the time, is what he made a record of and his fans loyally bought it. But I really think now is the time the world at large can start discovering John in a whole new light."

"I think John threw so much honor and respect at Lester [Flatt], that band, that feeling was mutual as I remember. The thing about the Foggy Mountain Boys is it really is an elite fraternity that still means a whole lot. They set their band up on incredible standards and principle. I don't think it's any secret that the gate's been open at John and Marie's house for the last few weeks and it's been a stream of pickers and friends coming and going to cheer John and Marie on and I know one of the last requests he had was to be able to look out over the river that he loved so much. They had it fixed so that his bed would overlook the river. I understand [Earl] Scruggs went out there and sat around and picked for him. That's the kind of band that the Foggy Mountain Boys was and that's the kind of neighbors Earl and Louise are. The fact that an old friend would do that for John. that says a whole lot for me."

"I wanna say that I know that we have several folks in our community that don't feel so good these days, whether it be Brother Oswald or Uncle Josh -- he was going through some times, or Johnny Russell or Wilma Lee or Hartford, I'm so touched and proud of the bluegrass musicians in this town that rally around their heroes and their elders and play music to cheer them on. It means so much. It's one thing to say you love somebody, but it's another thing to really show it and prove it."

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