Jimmy Scott passed away on Friday in Las Vegas. He was a tremendously gifted singer who influenced everyone from Billie Holiday to the Four Seasons and Little Anthony. He is the only singer who could make Madonna cry with his vocals. His career spanned the late 1940's and almost ended in a dispute with his record company in the late 1960's. But quality cannot be denied and Mr. Scott made a comeback in the last 20 years of his life, still performing until quite recently. Explore his work on You Tube and see what you missed.
"Learning to Smile Again" - Johnny Hartford
I have posted Johnny Hartford here before. He is a direct link to the days before Delta Blues, Appalachian Music, and even New Orleans Jazz. His is the world of the steamboats which once plied the Mississippi loaded with cotton, and slaves, as it transited the Big Muddy. The grand boats weaved through free and slave states alike, giving birth to new music and even literature. Mark Twain once piloted a river boat there, and so would Johnny Hartford. He was a man of the river, you might say.
Apparently the following link is to the album which is now out of print. Johnny Hartford rented a studio and set it up with one spotlight and a small area in which to perform his personal favorite songs; some of which he wrote; some of which were always there. He uses every bit of his body, heart and soul in each song. His voice doubles as train whistles, steamboats, washing machines. He even provides a rhythm section in the form of his considerable tap dancing talents as he both sings and plays his fiddle; or sometimes banjo; or sometimes guitar. Al;l while singing.
This is the way most Americans heard music back in the middle of the 19th Century; in the days before Edison invented the wax cylinder; or Marconi the wireless. If you didn't go to church you most likely never heard live music. And if you did it was probably at a tavern or political gathering with the entertainment performed by someone dressed just like Mr. Hartford.
Most people remember him as the guy who stood up with Glen Campbell each Sunday evening playing the banjo to the song he wrote "Gentle on My Mind." But he was so much more. It ocurs to me that there must be a reason I am thinking about him lately. Well, I just looked and it's been 13 years since his death from cancer at age 64. Of all the artists who have passed in that time period Johnny Hartford is the one I probably miss the most.
But watching these videos; the link to which is provided below; he lives forever; tapping and singing his way into our collective American experience. The music has it's roots in Scots-Irish ballads but became decidedly American in both composition and lyrics. It was the precursor to everything which came after in American music. I hope you enjoy the clarity of the following performance;