McClurg Jam

McClurg Jam

Monday, January 25, 2010

John Hartford's Hamilton Ironworks Album

This is the album that did it for me. One listen to this album and I was done. When I said Lonnie Robertson was my favorite fiddler, (a dumb concept,"favorites")
I will have to fudge and say that John Hartford is my real favorite. At least after I listen to Hamilton Ironworks again and again and again.

This was one of my first fiddle albums. I actually think I had one of Alan Jabbour's albums first and liked that but THIS! Once I had this one I went on to the Traditional Fiddle Music of the Ozarks series. All of this was discovered in that wonderful old Mountain Music Shoppe in Shawnee, now deceased.

John Hartford recorded this at the very end and is his very last recording and album. According to John himself, on the intro at the begining of album, he tells us
"that this is an album of memories, an album of growing up in a real happy time with some great music and some great musicians and these are not necessarily faithful reproductions of these tunes....but this is all about the people I grew up with and the tunes they played...."

This album is a retrospective on his coming up as a young musician in Missouri and more than that, it's his attempt to inscribe the people he knew and played with and learned from into our cultural memory so that when he was gone, we would remember them too.

Because he knew, I believe, the end was nigh, he played on this album with power and expression to a high level. John was never a slacker on his performances and worked hard to always give it the best he had but there is something even deeper in Hamilton Ironworks.

Of course, it could be me and my emotional imagination but I really don't think so.
Tonight as I was making an apple pie in the kitchen and listening to Hamilton Ironworks on my IPod I found myself dancing and tears of joy burst up in me from the beauty of his playing and. Strange thing is, this level of emotion is pretty typical when I listen. John Hartford just had something here.

If you watched my posting of him playing Wolves a Howlin you could see his power. Who else do you know could play a square dance fiddle tune and have young people react like it was some kind of rock and roll concert??? Only the Wilders have come close to that. John was there first.

Here is the song list.
1.Knockin at your door
2.Woodchopper's Breakdown
3.Hamilton Ironworks
5.Politic (politically correct term for this tune)
6.Wooliver's Money Musk
7.Ragtime Dream
8.Quail is a Pretty Bird (my favorite. An Ozark tune similar to Sandy Boys)
9.Emminence Breakdown
10.Ragged Bill
11.Hi Dad in the Morning
12.Black River
13.Green Corn
14.Devil's Hornpipe
15.Wolves a Howlin (another favorite of mine)
16.Fiddler's Hornpipe
17.White River
18.Greenback Dollar
19.Comin Down From Denver,on a Trip to Galway Here and There
20.Chicken Oh Chicken
21.Goforth's Dusty Miller
22.Turkey Buzzard

It's interesting to note that many of these are particularly Ozarkian with some of that Missouri Valley material in there too. Roy Woolivar was (I am told) a Missouri Valley fiddler and old Roy influenced a lot of other Missouri fiddlers including the Ozark fiddlers mentioned in his album. Roy Wollivar is refered to a lot in this album both for color but also for the fact of his wide influence. The Goforth Family figures large in this same way, along with the Dillards family. These three families along with an assortment of differant folks formed the stew that Hartford blended into becoming...Hartford.

Folks who followed Hartford for all those years often remember him for his being a pioneer of "newgrass" or whatever you can call his unique expression of Old Time and Bluegrass music. He had fun with everything he did along the way and did not pay too much attention to purity or correctness.

This album is differant from those earlier years. He is dead serious here. Still having fun but the respect for this music from his past bade him play it real and straight up. He still injects his talent into the tunes and the way he plays them but it never departs too far. He is real. True. Authentic in a way few can be.

To sum up. Hamilton Ironworks is a fantastic album of Missouri traditional fiddle music as experienced by John Hartford as he was growing up in Missouri in the fifties. The only hesitation I have about what I just said is, we all know how Missouri fiddlers were influenced from lots of directions. So I would not take it too far. Still, this is what they played in Missouri then and it still is.

Of all of Hartford's Fiddle albums, this is his best. And that is saying alot.
If you don't have it yet, please help yourself and buy it. You will thank me.

I am no expert. Just a enthusiastic Old Time Music lover who knows what he likes and tells you so. I lean on the knowledge of others for the terms and the catagories but in the end it's all about my love for this music. That's all. There are folks all around me here in this area who could put me in the shade on knowing about this music. True enough. I just want other folks to know about it too. So here we are.


  1. World a colder darker place without John Harford

  2. I've been listening to this over and over since first came out. What a wonderful album. I got the instructional dvd of his from Fiddler Magazine and it is great having John Hartford giving a music lesson, not just fiddle. Truly miss him


English only. Spam comments are deleted.