Nearly a decade after his passing, Memories of John was recorded to commemorate the life and music John Hartford. The core of the project is The John Hartford Stringband—Chris Sharp/guitar, Bob Carlin/banjo, Matt Combs/fiddle, Mike Compton/mandolin and Mark Schatz/bass—the same group of musicians who appeared on Hartford’s last five Rounder Records projects and who were his touring band during the last years of his life.
Special guests Tim O’Brien, Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Alan O’Bryant, George Buckner and Eileen Carson Schatz join the band on renditions of hit original John Hartford songs, traditional fiddle tunes, country and bluegrass songs refashioned by Hartford as well as a few rarely heard Hartford originals written shortly before his death. But the most special guest on the CD is John Hartford himself who appears on several previously unreleased tracks. Memories of John is a loving tribute to one of the most influential musicians of his time and an essential recording for all John Hartford fans.
A word from the producer Chris Sharp:
Often I am asked by a John Hartford fan if I would be willing to relate a story about him. All too often, my mind draws a blank. It’s not for a lack of stories, as there are plenty! Rather, I’ve started to realize that it’s from the sheer amount of stories, experiences, lessons, and the friendship we had.
For many of you who got to know John, you are aware that he was a very down-to-earth and accessible person. He loved his fans and friends, and they loved/love him back. I won’t go into a John Hartford biography here. Just suffice to say that he was probably the best overall entertainer who ever graced a stage, he was full of new and innovative ideas, and he loved music better than anyone I’ve ever met.
When I decided to make this CD, I was surprised at all the support we received. The musicians, people that loaned us gear we didn’t possess (John’s banjo, extra microphones, preamps, etc...), fans, and John’s family all pitched in to make my idea a reality. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that everyone involved wanted to help keep the memory of John Hartford alive and to present songs that represent John’s music and character.
Finally, the schedules were all in place, and it was time to record. I loaded up my studio (along with some borrowed gear) and headed down to Nashville. Thanks to Matt Combs, we were able to use an empty classroom at the music school where he teaches. With the exception of three overdubs (Alison Brown, Bela Fleck, and Eileen Carson Schatz), all the recording was done “live-in-the-studio” in two and a half days.
Some of the songs I’ve chosen to include on this CD will be familiar to John Hartford fans, while others have rarely been heard outside of John’s inner circle. The latter mostly consists of songs he wrote but did not get around to recording.
In producing this project, I have tried to stay true to my interpretation of John’s music. In making decisions about certain things, it’s been second nature to do what Tim suggests and ask myself, “What would John Hartford Do?”
The notes that accompany each of the songs point to the title of the CD(s) where you can find John Hartford’s recorded performance. These are all available through John’s website at www.johnhartford.com, which is lovingly maintained by his family. The website is a wonderful place to get to know more about John Hartford. There is even a great forum for people to exchange stories/ideas about him.
It is my sincere hope that you will feel John’s presence in these recordings and enjoy the “new” songs that you might not have heard. I am honored that the String Band and guest artists trusted me with their performances. It was a humbling experience, and one that I did not take lightly.
We’ll see you out there on the road soon!