Not everyone likes bluegrass music as much as I do. And that’s ok. I don’t like coffee. To each his own. But like it or not, bluegrass music is an American invention, and has shaped American history and culture in deep ways. For that reason, I ask you respect it, even if you don’t enjoy it.
John Hartford was undisputably one of the great bluegrass performers of the 20th century. It was not his first love though, that honor went to the Missippippi river, and the steamboats that travelled upon it. He saved his shekels from performing, and bought his very own steamboat on the river.
John could take anything and make a song out of it. He once listed all the bluegrass performers he could think of, rolling them off at an astounding clip, while playing the banjo and tap dancing. Tap dancing? Yes, when performing he’d lay a sheet of plywood on the floor and cover it with sand and lay microphone on it. While playing (banjo, or fildde, or guitar) he’d tap, slide, scuff, and generally be an excellent percussionist.
Here’s a video and the lyrics to a favorite song of mine, they make a good story so be sure to read to the end:
Well, I would not be here if I hadn’t been there
And I wouldn’t’ve been there if I hadn’t just turned
On Wednesday the third in the late afternoon
Got to talking with George who works out the back
And only because he was getting off early
To go see a man at a Baker Street bookstore
With a rare first edition of Steamboats and Cotton
A book that he would never have sought in the first place
Had he not been inspired by a fifth-grade replacement
School teacher in Kirkwood who was picked just at random
By some man on a school board that couldn’t care less
And she wouldn’t’ve been working if not for her husband
Who’d moved two months prior to work in the office
Of man he had met while he served in the Army
And only because they were in the same barracks
An accident caused by a poorly made roster
Mixed up on the desk of a sergeant from Denver
Who wouldn’t’ve been in but for being in back
Of a car he was riding before he enlisted
That hit a cement truck and killed both his buddies
But a backseat flew up there, spared him from dying
And only because of the fault of a workman
Who forgot to turn screws on a line up in De-troit
Because he hollered at Sam who was hateful that morning
Hung over from drinking alone at a tavern
Because of a woman he wished he’d not married
He’d met long ago at a Jewish bar mitzvah
For the son of a man who had moved there from Jersey
Who managed the drugstore that sold the prescription
That cleared up the sunburn he’d caught way last summer.
John died in 2001.