Friday, April 20, 2007

Elvis Presley - "Gentle On My Mind"

This post isn't so much about Elvis Presley as it is an excuse to call attention to the strange life and career of one John Hartford. If you're only mildly familiar with bluegrass music, he's the weird guy in the Down From the Mountain PBS special, produced in the wake of the popularity of the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, who plays the fiddle and sings a song about a farmhand who steals a hog and hides it in his bed. Hartford got his start as a middle-of-the-road Nashville also-ran, producing a pair of middle-of-the-road country albums in the mid-1960s. The second contained a minor hit entitled "Gentle On My Mind".

Ring a bell? Glen Campbell turned it into a monster hit, won a slew of Grammys and made it into one of the most recorded country songs of all time.

The success of that one song pretty much set Hartford up for life, a life he spent recording a series of abstract post-modern bluegrass albums with some of Nashville's best up-and-coming players. The best of those records, Aereo-Plane, features Vassar Clements and Norman Blake, both of whom later appeared on the Nitty-gritty Dirt Band's zillion-selling Will the Circle Be Unbroken, many a yankee's first introduction to bluegrass music back in '72.

Presley recorded "Gentle" for his 1969 return to his roots, From Elvis in Memphis, perhaps the best of the post-Hollywood studio albums. I have no idea who plays bass on this track, but he really carries the whole thing. 70s country bass players rule. No joke.

I don't actually have that album; this version is from some random two-record compilation called Elvis Country Memories. All I can tell you about it is that RCA put it out in 1978 and it has no liner notes and no logical sequence. I got it for $4.95 at The Book Trader, which has a great room full o' vinyl hidden in the back upstairs. I bought it just to line the crates for a DJ gig at a friend's wedding. The bride's mother insisted on as much Elvis as possible. I did my best.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Elvis Presley - "Gentle On My Mind"

That does it: I'm posting some Hartford on Monday.

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