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Barry Jarman of the legendary (and still active) SA pop group The Bats, passed away last week; and Eddie Boyle, who was best known as the bassist for SA rock group Stingray, died on stage during a live performance at the Blues Room in Sandton on the 19th June. Our condolences to all Barry and Eddie's family, friends and fans.
From Brian Currin - SA Rock Digest # 111
While out west he had played on the Byrds' groundbreaking country-rock album, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. He refused to compromise one iota musically, building an impressive, if somewhat left of centre career as an old time fiddler and banjo player who wrote memorable songs that almost nobody got to hear. Nevertheless, he led several new converts to bluegrass and traditional music, sucking them in with easy to like songs like Granny, Won't You Smoke Some Marijuana, and then keeping them interested when the real stuff came along. His live performances were the stuff of legend as he clog-danced on an amplified piece of plywood to his own banjo or fiddle accompaniment. He even learned to play Duelling Banjos on his cheeks, and many better-known folk, country and bluegrass performers have testified to the impossibility of following Hartford when he was on song.
Hartford's fascination with the Mississippi led him to become a riverboat crew member and then pilot, an alternative trade that he plied for a number of years and which inspired many of his songs. He also acted as curator of an impressive collection of riverboat memorabilia. Listeners who saw the Mississippi: River of Song series on TV last year will have encountered Hartford in his riverboat guise.
He linked up with bluegrass brothers Doug and Rodney Dillard for one album, and, just a couple of years ago, with Mike Seeger, folklorist and banjo playing brother of Pete, and mandolin wizard David Grisman for an album entitled Retrograss. This record featured songs like Hound Dog, called Hound Dawg after Grisman's nickname, Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm,
Chuck Berry's Memphis and Maybelline, Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay, and the Beatles' When I'm Sixty Four alongside several bluegrass standards, and was nominated for a Grammy.
Most recently he played on the superb soundtrack album to the Coen Brothers film, O Brother Where Art Thou, and the accompanying D.A.Pennebaker directed musical documentary, Down From The Mountain. He was employed a few years ago to do voice-overs for the magnificent Ken Burns television documentary on the American Civil War. He was also a notable music historian and was writing a biography of old-time fiddle player Ed Haley, parts of which can be read on the John Hartford website. Banjo legend Earl Scruggs recalled how a young John Hartford once came to visit him while he was recovering from an accident. Apparently Hartford had a little note pad with him. He said, 'If you don't mind I'd like to ask you a few questions.' Scruggs didn't mind, of course. Hartford then proceeded to ask him eight pages of questions about the banjo.
After fighting cancer for more than twenty years, Hartford finally lost control of his hands earlier this year while playing in Texas. Apparently he had to sit for his final show, with his fiddle cradled in his lap. During the last few weeks of his life his home came alive with musicians, singers and storytellers. He died earlier this month at the age of 63. Here is John Hartford, with his most famous song. Gentle on my Mind...
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