Re-release of Aereo-Plain… finally!
Sam Bush calls John Hartford the father of New Grass music and the album that likely inspired him to make such a claim has been largely unavailable for over ten years. That will soon change. A cd copy of Aereo-Plain by John Hartford would cost you about 100 bucks right now on eBay- if there’s one out there. The album released a year later in 1972 by Hartford, Morning Bugle, would cost about 50. It was announced last week at the IBMA conference in Nashville that both will be re-released in the coming year on the Rhino Handmade label. While it is likely it will still only be a limited release, this is a very big deal as I’m sure some of you will recognize. Both albums are a welcome return to the Americana scene as well as the broader acoustic music genre in the world.
Aereo-Plain was groundbreaking on a few levels. It has stood up well over the years because of it’s instrumental perfection, genius song writing, and unique production. It provided a shift in ideas for bluegrass and acoustic music to come. Norman Blake is widely regarded for his ability on the guitar and as a songwriter. The Aereo-Plain recording came about 6 months before his first solo album would be recorded. While he was in high demand as a session musician already, no doubt his involvement on this Hartford project acted as a spring board for a wonderful career to follow. Vassar Clements played fiddle on the album and is, of course, magical. Vassar was already noteworthy in the scene, and would go on to full on fame with his role in Old and In the Way. On dobro was Tut Taylor, who has been part of the Nashville circle for over 50 years. Hartford played mostly banjo, with a couple tracks on guitar. The four of them made up the band that toured the festival circuit for about one year in 1971. Included on the album was Randy Scruggs on electric bass.
The band was known for it’s tendency to jam. It’s noted that they would often wake up and start playing and continue to play together all day, through their performance at night, and on into the early morning hours. This tendency is very clear on the album. The songs they chose were a mix of standards and originals with some interesting popular inclusions along the way. Aereo-Plain is all original material with two exceptions, and it’s fair to say the songs are downright brilliant. They demonstrate both the unique phrasing that John was known for in his hit ‘Gentle On My Mind’ along with the whimsical fun lyrics that would define him for years to come.
As an album, Morning Bugle is a bit more relaxed but no less important. The band at this point just one year later is scaled down to just Hartford and Blake. Throughout the album they proceed to swap guitars, mandolins, and fiddles back and forth with only a few overdubs for additional instrumentation; the whole album was recorded live around a mic in the studio. One thing that’s always gotten me about Morning Bugle is the inclusion of Dave Holland on bass. This album was a mere two years after Holland had finished his tenure with Miles Davis on some of the classic albums. The jazz influence is undeniable on several tracks and really points to the similarities in jazz and bluegrass as respective modes of improvisational jam. This album represents a sort of joining of two classic american music styles while both are still in their relative childhood.
It’s hard to say what having these two albums back in distribution will mean. I can’t help but think there’s a lot of folks out there that haven’t had the opportunity to hear a couple of the best records ever in my opinion. John Hartford left this world nearly 10 years ago already, there’s no chance to ever see him perform again but there’s lots of great recordings both live and studio out there to help us remember him by. Even with the trove that’s out there, the inclusion of Aereo-Plain and Morning Bugle in the mix will be critical to how the music continues to evolve. If John is the father of New Grass, that would make Big Mon the grandfather… I’m sure he’s proud.