"CAPTAIN BILLY’S MAGIC 8 BALL" - A New Series Created By William Mesnik, The Mind Behind “Mesmerized”- EPISODE # 3 - "THE MARK TWAIN OF BLUEGRASS" - FEATURING THE ALBUM "AEREO-PLAIN by JOHN HARTFORD - 1971 Warner Brothers Records

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EPISODE #3: AEREO-PLAIN by John Hartford (Warner Brothers, 1971) Produced By David Bromberg

This album was my gateway drug into the world of country music. A sly, subversive magic trick, combining nostalgic, traditional bluegrass pickin’, hippie boogie, and really jaundiced – yet good natured wordplay. I said to myself: “wait a minute…. This is the guy who wrote “Gentle on my Mind,” the mega-hit for Glen Campbell?” Yes, but that was 4 years earlier, and by ’71 he had said bye-bye to the corporate hustle, scooped up his royalties, and set out for greener musical pastures.

He drew me in with ditties like “Holding” and “Up on the hill where they do the boogie,” and then, when he had my attention, educated me with the elegiac “They’re gonna tear down the Grand Ole Opry”, and the gospel gold of “Turn Your Radio On”. And, his shaggy, Steam-punk image in the aviator goggles sealed the deal. This was my Nashville cat, and he taught me to love the banjo in a whole new way.

The record was produced by none other than the hippie generalist, David Bromberg, who, according to lore, assembled the finest bluegrass musicians known to man, let them get high and jam, and just kept the tape recorder running. The result generated hours of good fun, and, according to Sam Bush, invented an original musical genre “New Grass.” This record remains fresh, even after a thousand listens.

It makes total sense that this Missouri native got his start on the Mississippi Rivers boats, just as Mark Twain did a hundred years prior. Both men learned to gauge and navigate their environments, both natural and sociological. And, like his predecessor, JH also used humor to tilt at windmills, and did so in a completely American vernacular.

By Rich Buckland 03/28/2021 07:06 PM

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