Aereo-Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings
Aereo-Plain (DISC ONE)
1. Turn Your Radio On (Albert E. Brumley)
2. Steamboat Whistle Blues (John Hartford)
3. Back in the Goodle Days (John Hartford)
4. Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie (John Hartford)
5. Boogie (John Hartford)
6. First Girl I Loved (John Hartford)
7. Presbyterian Guitar (John Hartford)
8. With a Vamp in the Middle (John Hartford)
9. Symphony Hall Rag (John Hartford)
10. Because of You (John Hartford)
11. Steam Powered Aereo Plane (John Hartford)
12. Holding (John Hartford)
13. Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry (Robert Taylor-John Hartford)
14. Leather Britches (Traditional, arranged by Vassar Clements and John Hartford)
15. Station Break (John Hartford)
16. Turn Your Radio On (Albert E. Brumley)
17. Sweetheart Can’t You Hear Me Calling (Traditional)
18. Weave and Way (Norman Blake-Robert Taylor)
19. Cumberland Gap (Traditional)
20. Orange Blossom Special (Ervin T. Rouse)
Morning Bugle (DISC TWO)|
1. Streetcar (John Hartford)
2. Nobody Eats at Linebaugh’s Anymore (John Hartford)
3. Howard Hughes’ Blues (John Hartford)
4. All Fall Down (John Hartford)
5. On the Road (John Hartford)
6. Morning Bugle (John Hartford)
7. Old Joe Clark (John Hartford)
8. My Rag (John Hartford)
9. Late Last Night When My Willie Came Home (Traditional, arranged by John Hartford)
10. Got No Place to Go (John Hartford)
11. Bye-Bye (John Hartford)
12. Flower Power Died (John Hartford)
13. Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down (Traditional)
14. Back Up and Push (Traditional)
15. Airport Floor (John Hartford)
About the Album
Aereo-Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings
A gifted banjo player, steam boat captain and a TV "face" in the late '60s, John Hartford also wrote one of the most popular songs of all time. In later years, he added musical contributor to Ken Burns' Civil War series and the hit O Brother, Where Art Thou? album (as well as master of ceremonies for the subsequent Down from the Mountain concert tour and film) to his long list of credits. Those last two projects delighted John, as they fueled a new generation's interest in traditional music. It wasn't the first time, though, that Hartford would be involved bringing youth to the country music party, since in 1971 and 1972 he was not only responsible for two of the finest folk and country albums of the era, but also for a new, youth-fired strain of bluegrass, a style that would become known as Newgrass.
John Hartford, an Earl Scruggs-inspired banjo player since he was a kid in St.Louis, was just another hopeful folkie in mid '60s Nashville when one of his songs propelled him to fame and fortune. "Gentle on My Mind," a lilting ballad Hartford had written in a little over fifteen minutes after watching the Dr. Zhivago movie, was recorded by Glen Campbell, then at the height of his commercial powers. Not only was the song a hit, but both Campbell's and Hartford's version won Grammys in 1968, and Campbell chose the songs as the theme tune for his TV show.
Hartford then left Nashville for Los Angeles, where he immersed himself in the burgeoning folk rock community and became something of a TV star, appearing regularly on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Johnny Cash show. Cash, always a tasteful picker of songs, had a special fondness for Hartford's writing, especially his way with words. He said astutely in 1969 that Hartford "says things that make us look at life a little differently than we're used to seeing it."
John Hartford's screen charisma and swarthy good looks even brought him the offer of a starring role on a new TV detective show. But Hartford passed on the opportunity, preferring to move back to Nashville and follow his musical muse.
Back in Music City in 1971, Hartford put together a band of bluegrass legends with the idea of trying something new and different but rooted in the traditional folk music foundation. Vasser Clements fit the bill, having been steeped in old-time bluegrass and country music as a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Sky Boys and, later, playing with Jim and Jesse and mainstream country star Faron Young.
Vassar recalled the formation of that seminal band to the Old Time Herald: "Back when he got out of the Glen Campbell thing in California, and he came down here and put this band together, me and Tut (Taylor) and Norman (Blake), and Randy Scruggs played bass on that Steam Powered Aereo Plain. And then I think we'd go out, me and him and Tut and Norman, and if there
was a bass player somewhere around, he played, and if there wasn't, we just played ourselves.
But that was so different that record companies didn't know which way to take it. But now, today,
it still stands. It was so different that it still stands. People listen to it and play the music. They
say it's one of the best things they ever heard, the most different."
Guitarist Norman Blake had cut his teeth in June Carter's road band and recorded with Johnny
Cash in Nashville. He also knew a thing or two about blending genres since he had played guitar
and dobro on Bob Dylan's groundbreaking Nashville Skyline album.
Tut Taylor was one of the best-known and most distinctive dobro players on the folk and country
scene. He'd even recorded a dobro instrumental album in 1963, 12 String Dobro, with a little
mandolin help from a young (soon to be Byrd) Chris Hillman.
Sticking with youth, Earl Scruggs' teenage guitar playing son Randy was recruited to play occasional
But besides surrounding himself with top caliber players, Hartford great genius was to entrust
production of what would become Aereo-Plain to a rookie producer, a young, highly regarded
New York folkie named David Bromberg. Bromberg was a regular player in New York's Greenwich
Village coffee house circuit , and had been a keen student of traditional music since his teen
years. Says Bromberg, "I discovered Pete Seeger and The Weavers and, through them, Reverend
Gary Davis. I then discovered Big Bill Broonzy, who led me to Muddy Waters and the Chicago
blues. This was more or less the same time I discovered Flatt and Scruggs, which led to Bill
Monroe and Doc Watson."
Bromberg and Hartford had previously met at a folk festival, and had had a hoot jamming together.
Hartford figured the young Bromberg would be the perfect mix of technique and new ideas
to oversee his next album. Hartford's direction was to let the music do the talking, telling Bromberg, "Let the tapes roll, we don't want to hear playbacks until you've put the master together."
Bromberg recalls: "He asked me to produce the record in a way I've never heard of any other record being produced. He didn't want anyone to hear a single playback, note one, until the record was mixed and sequenced. I basically produced it in a vacuum. I had nobody to consult with. Then again, with musicians like those on it, I can't claim any huge credit, because those guys were just incredible players."
Hartford was looking for something different. He'd signed to Warner Bros for a fresh start musically and felt the time was right to take his music in a completely novel direction. It may have been recorded in Nashville, but the progressive, "hippie" feel came from Hartford wanting what he called a "New York" attitude.
Bromberg explained: "In New York, we'd sit around and smoke pot and play 'Sally Goodin' for an hour and a half. That approach kind of became, after a while, Newgrass. John wanted some of the wild playing that we did in New York. After about 30 choruses of 'Sally Goodin,' it begins to get strange. And that's what he liked. I think if he had gotten a Nashville producer, he wouldn't have gotten that. I think I was chosen because I understood that direction."
The result was Aereo-Plain, an exquisite album that has been hailed by many as the seminal recording of the bluegrass sub-genre known as "Newgrass."
The album was too off the wall and ahead of its time for Warner Bros. to really appreciate what the witty and progressive banjo player was attempting. The label was unsure whether to promote the record to traditional bluegrass devotees or young "hippie" music fans. So they did neither.
But Hartford did record a follow up for them, Morning Bugle. This time he took a more minimalist approach, using Norman Blake again on guitar and jazz bass player Dave Holland to complement his banjo (and occasional overdubbed guitar and fiddle).
Again the tracks were mostly recorded live, sometimes first take and with the players facing each other in a small circle.
Hartford brough in a new producer for Morning Bugle, John Simon, fresh from working with
perhaps America's greatest ever roots rock band, The Band. Indeed, Morning Bugle was recorded at Bearsville Studios, just outside Woodstock, NY, where The Band lived and played.
In many ways, Morning Bugle is a more sophisticated, more measured album than its predecessor.
Like Aereo-Plain, it bristles with exemplary musicianship and inspired songwriting. But its jazz twist and Hartford's increasingly creative lyrics make it an even more unique and identifiable release than even the groundbreaking Aereo-Plain. This double-CD release offers a chance for the listener to compare and contrast both of these essential works of American music, with eight unreleased bonus delicacies (four from each album session) to boot.
Critics poured praise again on Hartford's pioneering work, but without the backing of his record company, still genuinely mystified as to how to best market such a genre-busting album, sales were poor, and Hartford would leave behind the world of major record companies and instead tread his own idiosyncratic musical path until his untimely death in 2001.
In retrospect, John Hartford was delightfully ahead of his time. His work in bringing a new young audiuence to traditional country music would lead to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's seminal hippie country album Will the Circle Be Unbroken in 1972, and indeed set the template for the whole Newgrass boom of the '70s, led by the likes of New Grass Revival, Peter Rowan, Ricky Skaggs, Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas over the following thirty years.
As Sam Bush, leader of New Grass Revival, would so accurately say: "Without Aereo-Plain,
there would be no 'newgrass' music."