Over 1000 never before recorded, never heard, fiddle tunes by John Hartford discovered! While going through John Hartford ’s archive, the family discovered over 60 handwritten music journals he had been using to compose fiddle tunes since the early ‘80s. Katie Harford Hogue tell us, “I suspect the journals contain over 1,000 tunes. It’s fascinating to look through them. Jamie worked with Dad in reading and writing music and Dad got busy right away. Dad amassed a lot of research and stuff, and he was a prolific creator. One of the interesting challenges we’ve had over the years is figuring out how to take his unfinished projects and ideas and develop them into ‘new’ material to continue his legacy. The fiddle book idea has been bouncing around in our heads ever since we discovered the journals.”
This book covers fiddle tunes John Hartford wrote from 1983 until early 2001, a few months before he passed away. Most of the tunes are original. There are also arrangements on traditional fiddle tunes, tunes he learned from friends, and several he transcribed from his research on Ed Haley— but only original tunes will be in this book. It will be nice enough to keep on the coffee table, accessible enough to take to the coffee shop and read, large enough to hold about 176 tunes plus story, interviews and photos. The John Hartford Office hopes to follow up with a smaller, spiral bound version of the tunes that will fit in a gig bag.
Greg Reish, Director-Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee University is writing the narrative for the book and much more. According to Greg, “Hartford’s Mammoth Collection will also include pictures and narrative that contextualize the tunes, when and where they were written, the people and events that inspired them, etc., I am conducting extensive interviews with people who were in John’s orbit during these years. While this will certainly be a tune anthology useful to players, it will also be a multimedia biography of John’s love affair with the fiddle, of interest to every fan of John Hartford and American roots music.”
And just who will be taking on this fascinating, yet difficult task of playing these tunes and picking what will be in the book? In the mid 1990’s a young violinist/fiddler named Matt Combs sat down with John Hartford at John’s place on the Cumberland River, to play through the music of legendary fiddler Ed Haley. “Originally, John hired me to do transcriptions of Ed Haley’s music to be used in the Ed Haley book he was working on. When I finished the transcriptions, I would go over to his house on the river and John would bring out Ed Haley’s old fiddle. John would sit at one end of the big table in his room facing the Cumberland River and I would sit at the other end playing Haley’s transcriptions on his old fiddle. Quickly it became more of a musical friendship, I had the good fortune of finding a rental house 4 houses down from John’s house and several times a week we would get together and play tunes, hang out in his office listening to recordings, or get in his old Cadillac and go to lunch. As a single guy at the time, I also ate a lot of dinners over at the Hartford house. John was a truly inspirational guy. As evidenced by his journals, he was incredibly prolific. His mind was always on music, and that is no exaggeration. Being around that level of creativity was and continues to be an inspiration to me.” Who else but Matt Combs?
Since moving to Nashville after graduating with a Bachelor of Music from the University of Michigan, Matt has played with many of the best singers and players in country, bluegrass and old-time music—including 11 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. During this time, Matt was nominated for a Grammy and won the 2012 Grandmaster Traditional Fiddle contest. Matt performed with John Hartford as part of the John Hartford Stringband. Matt’s Television work has included appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman”, “The View”, “Nashville”, and other musical specials on ABC, PBS, and CMT. In addition to his busy playing schedule, Matt maintains his position as Head of the Fiddle Department at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, and records music all around Nashville studios and at his home studio in East Nashville.
I asked Matt what it was like being trusted and given the honor/task, to view, play and choose the songs for this album? “It is an honor to choose the music to be included in this book. Going through these journals is like rummaging through John’s head—and that’s a funny experience. He wrote down every little idea and snippet, from the most ridiculous turn-of-phrase, to the fully completed tunes that will be included in the book. I have been reading through and recording every tune John wrote and making a spreadsheet of the titles, then upon re listening to the recordings, I give each tune a rating—the highest ratings will be the ones included in the book. Out of this collection of 176 tunes my hope is to pick out a top 20 or so and make a full-fledged recording. However, as a companion to the book, I will record each tune in the book on the fiddle one time through so that the non-music readers will have an audio reference to learn from.” Matt Combs. Now, in continuing the legacy of our namesake and furthering our mission, we are tickled to announce that the official release of “John Hartford’s Mammoth Collection of Fiddle Tunes” will take place at JHMF8! This brand new, full-color book further exemplifies the creative mind of the late John Hartford. John Hartford’s Mammoth Collection of Fiddle Tunes, published by StuffWorks Press, Inc. is a sizable anthology containing 176 of his original compositions. Painstakingly, but lovingly compiled and narrated by Matt Combs, Greg Reish, and Katie Harford Hogue,(John Hartford’s daughter and our good friend) most of these tunes are previously unpublished and unrecorded, taken from John Hartford’s personal music journals. Hartford was a prolific songwriter and composer. This one-of-a-kind treasure will be available at a special JHMF festival price of $30.00 and will be for sale, on site at the John Hartford booth in the pavilion.