Hartford, John


  • From St. Louis, Missouri.
  • He was a musician, songwriter, steamboat pilot, author, artist, disc jockey, calligrapher, dancer, folklorist, father, and historian.
  • Began his career with several bluegrass bands around the Missouri-Illinois area, including the Ozark Mountain Trio, the Missouri Ridgerunners, and the Dixie Ramblers (with Rodney and Doug Dillard.)
  • 1965, moved to Nashville and signed with RCA records, recording several solo projects. RCA thought John might be their “Bob Dylan.” Later signed with Warner Brothers, recording for them until 1971.
  • 1968, moved to Los Angeles and worked as a comedy writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (with Steve Martin) and also appeared as a regular on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. While in LA he appeared on the Byrd’s “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album.
  • He was a prolific songwriter. His biggest hit was “Gentle on My Mind” which became Glen Campbell’s first #1 song and one of the most popular songs of all time (according to BMI). In his words, “that song brought my freedom.”
  • He worked primarily as a solo artist during much of his career, accompanying himself on banjo, fiddle and guitar. He also danced while performing, shuffling his feet on a sheet of plywood dusted with sand.
  • He was a licensed river boat captain. His passion is the river and big paddle-wheel steamboats (inspiration for many of his songs). Has piloted the Delta Queen and for many years worked at least ten days per year aboard the Julia Belle Swain out of Peoria, Illinois. He lived in a house overlooking the Cumberland River.
  • His given name: John Cowan Harford, without the “t.” Changed it to Hartford because “people invariably spelled it that way anyhow.”
  • Early 1990’s, toured and recorded with his son Jamie, who went on to pursue his own career in music.
  • 1993, founded his own record label called “Small Dog a’ Barkin’.”
  • 2000, performed on the soundtrack album for “O Brother Where Art Thou” and hosted a concert at the Ryman Auditorium featuring artists appearing in the movie.
  • Died of non-hodgkins lymphoma in 2001.
  • 2009, a band was formed to preserve and perform Hartford’s music. Members included Chris Sharp (guitar), Bob Carlin (banjo), Mike Compton (mandolin), Matt Combs (fiddle) and Mark Schatz (bass). They recorded an album “Memories of John” and performed at the IBMA Awards to commemorate Hartford’s induction into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
  • 2010, was inducted into the IBMA’s Hall of Fame.
  • 2019, was inducted into the American Banjo Hall of Fame.