6

John Hartford: Aereo Plain/Morning Bugle - The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings

Skip Heller By

Sign in to view read count
John Hartford
Aereo Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Brothers Recordings
Real Music
2012

This 1971 album was to the emerging newgrass movement approximately was Bill Evans' Village Vanguard recordings were to jazz piano trios: the flexible blueprint for the genre. Evans and singer/multi-instrumentalist John Hartford both successfully found ways to dissolve the "soloist and his enablers" tyranny, working instead towards the integrated ensemble as the musical engine.

Shortlived though this group was, this unit—alternately called The Dobrolic Plectral Society or just "The Aereo Plain Band"—was a revolutionary force in bluegrass music. They only lasted a year, but apparently only needed a year (much as Evans' seminal trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian only needed about eighteen months). Hartford's ensemble was a watershed in the truest sense of the word. Fiddler Vassar Clements and dobroist Tut Taylor were the veterans, players at whom the established bluegrass world at the way jazz people look at alto saxophonist Phil Woods and pianist Hank Jones, which is to say soloing giants who are no less admired as team players. Hartford (on banjo) and Nashville session ace (sticking to guitar on this album) Norman Blake were the young players there to extend that tradition. There was no proto-punk insurgency here. Hartford was not an artistically angry person. He had his own ideas about bluegrass and other music, but he didn't seem to think he had to poke established icons like banjoist Earl Scruggs with a stick to make his point. Quite the contrary.

Hartford's name in 1971 was still synonymous with The Smothers Brothers Brothers Comedy Hour, a TV show for which he wrote and on which he often appeared. And, of course, he was singer/guitarist Glen Campbell's sidekick on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, accompanying Campbell mostly on banjo. Some of the Campbell shows give us a real display on instrumental firepower. Not only was Campbell a fantastic jazz-tinged country player, but Hartford was a banjo player worthy of praise from Sonny Osborne and Earl Scruggs, which he got. And, of course, he wrote one of the most often-covered hit songs of the sixties, "Gentle On My Mind." His own albums, which up to that time had been on RCA, were generally uneven but rife with material that has become canonical, despite woeful overproduction. Initially, he lived and recorded in Nashville, where producer Felton Jarvis treated him respectfully as something of a youthful, eccentric cross between Bob Dylan and Roger Miller. But within a few years, Hartford was living in the hills above Hollywood, hanging out, recording, touring constantly, and working in TV. His last two albums for RCA were produced by Rick Jerrard, a Sunset Strip ear stalwart who some know as the lead singer of The Bostweeds, so that is him on the classic theme from Russ Meyer's au go go Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Jerrard enjoyed more success as a staff producer for RCA records, and he did very well for the label, giving them massive hits with Nilsson ("Everybody's Talkin'"), Jose Feliciano ("Light My Fire"), and Jefferson Airplane's psyche cornerstone Surrealistic Pillow. But the two albums he produced of Hartford (only one of which came out) were long on cleverness and short on substance. Bootlegs of Hartford playing live at the time find him engaged outside of the recording studio (electric bassist Colin Cameron is particularly inventive), but Hartford dismissed the productions as "mud" and took a hard left turn. He gave his band notice, left RCA, and returned drew back to the night of August 23, 1969, when he appeared on the Johnny Cash Show and the core of the Aereo Plain lineup played together for the first time.

Johnny Cash and John Hartford had been friends for a few years at this point. The Man In Black had in fact written the liner notes for Hartford's 1967 debut album, John Hartford Looks At Life. It was no shock to anyone anywhere that Hartford would be on the Cash show. Their duo number for the episode—Cash always duo'd with the guests—was a medley of Bill Monroe songs. Cash hired Clements to play fiddle for it, and Blake—then in the show's house band—played mandolin. And as the performance unfolds, we see John Hartford come to life and full size. Even Cash—the most charismatic country singer of his era—gives him a wide, respectful berth. It's one of the most substantial highlights of the series, which is saying something huge.

Shop

More Articles

Read Back To... SOUL Hardly Strictly Jazz Back To... SOUL
by Skip Heller
Published: September 11, 2013
Read Pryor Experiences Hardly Strictly Jazz Pryor Experiences
by Skip Heller
Published: June 23, 2013
Read Reliving Elvis Hardly Strictly Jazz Reliving Elvis
by Skip Heller
Published: March 27, 2013
Read Carole Simpson Remembered Hardly Strictly Jazz Carole Simpson Remembered
by Skip Heller
Published: February 21, 2013
Read Beyond The Blues Hardly Strictly Jazz Beyond The Blues
by Skip Heller
Published: February 6, 2013
Read "Three Days At The Barber Shop, Part 2" In the Studio Three Days At The Barber Shop, Part 2
by David A. Orthmann
Published: September 9, 2016
Read "Brian Charette/Jim Alfredson Organ Duo at Nighttown" Live Reviews Brian Charette/Jim Alfredson Organ Duo at Nighttown
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: October 26, 2016
Read "Charles Lloyd Quartet at Vicar Street" Live Reviews Charles Lloyd Quartet at Vicar Street
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 28, 2016
Read "Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge" Book Reviews Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 21, 2017
Read "Garcia Live Volume Seven: Sophie's, Palo Alto, November 8, 1976" Extended Analysis Garcia Live Volume Seven: Sophie's, Palo Alto, November 8, 1976
by Doug Collette
Published: September 4, 2016
Read "Stan Getz" Building a Jazz Library Stan Getz
by Mark Barnett
Published: March 2, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!