“Bye Bye”: Faded Rural America

My father-in-law, Jim, is a folk music enthusiast whose music collection, I noticed, includes John Hartford‘s groundbreaking ‘hippie-grass’ album Aereo-Plain from 1971, his first for Warner Brothers.  Somehow I got the notion that “Bye Bye” — John Hartford’s standout track from 1972 Warner Brothers 2-LP sampler Days of Wine and Vinyl — was part of Aereo-Plain.  Not true.  “Bye Bye” would belong to Aereo-Plain‘s successor, Morning Bugle from 1972, fittingly the album’s final track:

“Bye Bye”     John Hartford     1972

An unnamed contributor to the (John) Hartford Forum would write:

I bought the Morning Bugle album when it first came out.  I’ve played it many times. Especially “Bye-Bye.”  It seemed to capture a way of life in rural and small-town middle America that was fading away.

Personnel on Morning Bugle, which was recorded at Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Studio:

John Hartford:  Vocal, Banjo & Fiddle
Norman Blake:  Guitar, Dobro & Mandolin
Dave Holland:   Acoustic Bass
John Simon:     Producer & Chorus

            Morning Bugle                                   Warner Brothers 2-LP sampler

John Hartford LP-aJohn Hartford LP-b

Warner Brothers, it seems, viewed Hartford as strictly an album artist, as there were no 45s issued during his time with the label.  Barry (“Dr. Demento“) Hansen would be commissioned by Warner Brothers to write these words for Days of Wine and Vinyl, as “Bye Bye” would also serve, fittingly, as the final song on the fourth side of this 2-LP sampler album:

“As we get down to that inevitable final drop of wine, and final groove of vinyl, we are graced with an extraordinarily eloquent farewell from John Hartford.  Equally talented with voice, banjo and pen (Doubleday recently brought out a collection of his lyrics in poetic form, Word Movies), Hartford is best known for his TV stints on The Glen Campbell Show and on The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, as well as several specials of his own.  Hartford is also rather famous for a song he wrote, ‘Gentle on My Mind,’ which has been recorded more than 200 different times.  For two years in a row, it was the most frequently recorded song in the world.

‘Gentle on My Mind’ is a song that gently stretches the limits of candor permissible within its middle-of-the-road milieu, a trait that one also might have noticed in Hartford’s television appearances.  One writer described John as ‘someone who managed to mean more and more the less he said.’

Like Glen Campbell, John Hartford began his musical career as a studio musician.  Whereas Glen worked in Hollywood, John became a Nashville regular with his winning ways on the 5-string banjo.  Eventually, RCA Records signed him as a solo artist.  He made eight albums for Little Nipper before moving to Warner Bros. in 1971.

Morning Bugle is John’s second collection for WB, following the high-flying Aereo-Plain.  The new album features John’s longtime accompanist, Norman Blake, on guitar, plus a surprise bassist, Dave Holland, whose name was up to now much better known to jazz fans than to country folk, thanks to his work with Miles Davis in particular.  Holland does quite nicely.  The album, in fact, was recorded almost entirely ‘live-in-the-studio’ with only the sparest of overdubs.  In addition to ‘Bye Bye,’ Morning Bugle contains the movingly nostalgic ‘Streetcar’ and ‘Nobody Eats at Linebaugh’s Anymore’ (a reference to the changing face of Nashville) and the time-grizzled ‘Old Joe Clark.'”

Not Eric Clapton                                           Eric Clapton

John Hartford IJohn Hartford II

Morning Bugle, which barely scraped under the Billboard 200 chart at #193, according to Wikipedia, “sold so poorly that Warner Brothers decided to devote no promotion at all to Hartford’s next release Morning Bugle.  Nevertheless, Aereo-Plain has been called the forerunner of the genre now known as ‘Newgrass.'”