Music

Gentle On My Mind

Today’s post was written by Paul.

Band standing together before a show

Paul, Chitter, Tipper, Chatter – Fall 2019 after a performance at Stecoah Valley Center

A few months ago, Katie mentioned to me that she really likes the song “Gentle on My Mind,” that she really admires John Hartford as a fiddler (writer of the song) and that she would like to learn the song. I filed that thought away.

When I was a kid, my older brother, Steve, had a couple of Glen Campbell cassette tapes that he played often. I absolutely loved all the songs on the tapes, like “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I get to Phoenix,” and “Gentle on My Mind.”

With “Gentle on My Mind” I was always made to imagine the protagonist wandering freely through the countryside, and I was drawn in by Campbell’s rolling guitar work at the outset of the song.

Once I learned to play a guitar myself, Pap told me that he believed Campbell had tuned his guitar in an open G, like a banjo for the song. I think Pap was right, or he was at least on the right track.

There’s definitely some kind of open tuning going on there, and there are some runs that I would describe as banjo licks. It may have been that Campbell was recreating (in his own way) the banjo sound that Hartford himself put into his original recording (Hartford was a great banjo player as well).

According to Wikipedia, Campbell loved Hartford’s folk version from the moment he heard it on the radio and knew immediately that he wanted to record it. There’s an interesting story about how he went about convincing his producer in the Wikipedia article that I read, but I won’t go into that here.

Chitter and Chatter typically sing songs around four frets lower than where Pap or I would sing them, so I speculated that the key of C would be about right and a good open chord for them to do the song.

My musical heros, the Louvin Brothers and the Delmore Brothers both used a tenor guitar.

I had only seen one in person ever, which hung in Wayde Powell, II’s old recording studio in Young Harris, GA. I took it down and plunked on it once, but it was missing some strings, and since I was only 18 at the time and still learning the “regular” six-string guitar, I had no idea how to play it, but I had always wanted to try one. Musician’s Friend had a Black Friday sale this year, so I thought it would be a good time to pick one up and see if I could get any sort of sounds out of it ($280). The fact that they’re tuned in an open C (most of the time) was a stroke of luck in terms of pairing it with the Pressley Girls singing “Gentle on My Mind,” and it produced a somewhat “open” sound similar to Campbell’s guitar tuning.

The way we do the song is a simplified version of how it goes. The song actually goes back and forth between the minor chord and the low major chord as the verses finish up, but we just go straight to the low chord from the minor chord and stay there until it returns to C. It doesn’t make much difference in the melody, but purists may notice it.

When we posted the song, I was surprised that several people (very politely) commented that they have never cared for the song. Though I was surprised, I have a theory on why that could be the case. The notes in the melody of the song don’t change very much over about 18 bars in terms of rising or falling. Pap sometimes didn’t care for Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” for this same reason. However, this never bothered me with either of these songs. Some folks also might not like “Gentle on My Mind” because there’s not a clearly defined verse/chorus pattern. Whatever the reason, the vast majority of listeners who’ve heard the song like it a lot.

BMI (one of the two major organizations that tracks song royalties) lists the song as #16 on the list of 100 greatest songs of all time, and it’s the 4th most played song on the radio of all time! The song helped launch and secure Campbell’s career transition from sought after studio musician to successful solo artist, and he used it as the theme song for his TV show for several years (The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour).

The song won four Grammy Awards in 1968: best country and western song, best folk performance (Hartford), best country and western male solo vocal performance, and best country and western recording (Campbell).

It most likely supported Hartford financially for the rest of his life, given the many covers of the song that made it to the top ten in the US and UK. The song also helped another set of brothers who are among the best singers to ever sing a note: the Glaser Brothers. The Glasers were among the first to have faith in the song. They agreed to publish it for Hartford under their publishing company. The publishing rights kept them afloat financially and kept them from leaving Nashville and going back to their home in Nebraska.

I’ve rambled on, but here’s one last thing that I find interesting. Hartford was born on December 30th, 1936, just 7 months earlier than Pap was born. We just missed Hartford’s birthday with this upload. Campbell was born just 7 months earlier than Hartford in April of ‘36. For a long time, I’ve had a “theory” that there was something special going on in 1936/37 because so many one-of-a-kind artists were born then, like Merle Haggard, Jim Glasser, Jack Nicholson, and Morgan Freeman, just to name a few. And of course, I count Pap among that list of special talents, not just for his music but also for his gifted ability with anything and everything that he ever did or tried. Wayde Powell, II believes that the amazing nature of so many artists/individuals born around this time has less to do with the specific year they were born and perhaps more to do with the way this generation was shaped by WWII, which of course was underway during their formative childhood years. Either way, I find it interesting, and can’t believe that it’s just a coincidence. Thanks for reading all of this! We hope you enjoyed our take on Hartford’s famous song. We plan to learn it a lot better and to start working it into our live sets, even if it means that I have to tote around a baby guitar to our shows. 🙂    

I hope you enjoyed Paul’s great guest post and the video. I’ve always liked the song and I especially like the video of us doing it. I don’t like it because we do the song justice, but because it shows us being who we are—talking and pickin and grinning on any given Sunday afternoon like we’ve done for so many years.

Tipper

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Twyla Holloway
    February 7, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    That being said and slightly established of course doesn’t mean it can’t be done!! Your version sounds great as always!!

  • Reply
    Twyla Holloway
    February 7, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    I talked to Dan (Dan C Holloway) and he said John Hartford dropped the 4th string on the banjo down to C . Same as Careless love. Paul, your Dad may have been hearing that. Dan said Glen Campbell is definitely not in a different tuning when ‘he’ is playing it. Your Dad could have been hearing John’s Drop C tuning (only dropping the 4th string & not the others) I was curious so I asked him LoL I loved that beginning music that came out of Glen Campbell and John Hartford stayed the same. Glen was super talented above and beyond so naturally he left the common pickers like me behind. Great post and I love everyone’s comments. Please share more with us!! twyla holloway
    (I could ask Larry Perkins because he played with them & John Hartford was his best friend)

  • Reply
    InTheWoods
    January 13, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    Watching your playing, I couldn’t help but imagine Glen is toe-tapping and smiling down on y’all. Sure miss him and his music, but you’d make him proud.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 12, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    Great post I love the song and all Glen Campbell and John song,music

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 12, 2020 at 8:29 pm

    Tipper, I love the song Gentle on my mind I like john Hartman and Glenn Campbell these men gave America so much great music and singing and songs . I loved Glen in The original True Grit movies. Thank Tipper for your added info on such men . I am so proud of all the Wilson family offspring. We listened to the Wilson brother on radio and my First husband his band he played with them on stage in the Folk school.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    January 12, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    Anyone who sings or plays music ,knows about music or who wrote it. You all did a good job. I wouldn’t know nothing. I do remember the song. My husband is a musician. And my youngest daughter . O how i wish i could do what they do but i just dont have it.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 12, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    Tipper,
    I was living in Atlanta with my young family, working at Davidson-Kennedy Co. at Northwest Atlanta, near town, when the Dean Martin Show came on with his Golddiggers . I thought the Golddiggers were beautiful, like my own Family.

    I am impressed with the way you or Paul tells the story of people’s age, like Pap. I always knew he was older, but he had my respect the first time we met. At Pap and Paul’s Concerts, Pap would see me in the audience and afterwords he would say “go home with me”. (without asking his wife) My daddy and mama taught me to respect my elders, they are my Favorite folks.

    I always liked Glen Campbell and the songs he sung, and it made me so sad upon his Passing. I hope his Songs will go-on. …Ken

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    January 12, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    Absolutely wonderful! Paul’s introduction was very interesting to me. Our little group tried to work up the song once, but we put it on the back burner and never got back to it.

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    January 12, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    This made my Sunday morning! One of my favorite songs and I loved learning the history of it. I’d like to see you do more of those Glen Campbell songs. You are all just terrific musicians and there is nothing like sibling harmony.

  • Reply
    Allison B
    January 12, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    Enjoyed the entire post…informational and entertaining! Always liked the song, and what a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    January 12, 2020 at 11:56 am

    I heard the song often when it was popular, but at that time it was just not one that I thought exceptional. Thanks to Paul, I am actually hearing the amazing words and listening to the sound. I loved listening to music through the years, and that was the limit of my knowledge. I became so interested in this after reading and listening to your version that I just hopped over on YouTube to actually pay attention for the first time to Glen Campbell’s version. Those words say so much, and maybe a misinterpretation, but seems it is describing a haunting love from the past. My favorite Glen Campbell back then was probably Galveston. Great music when you can her the words.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    January 12, 2020 at 10:06 am

    I like your version of the song, and I always enjoyed hearing Glen Campbell on the radio.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 12, 2020 at 9:34 am

    I never missed a Glen Campbell show back in the day. He was one of my favorites.

  • Reply
    John T
    January 12, 2020 at 9:19 am

    That was a fantastic job on that song. I enjoyed listening to you play it. Miss Katie is awesome on that fiddle.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 12, 2020 at 8:53 am

    Did not know John Hartford wrote “Gentle on My Mind” but then what I know about music wouldn’t fill a thimble. I do recall the Glen Campbell album mentioned. I think I have it in the attic. Sure takes me back to the 70’s; graduating high school, going off the college, getting married, working at the sawmill. Gee, that was a long time ago now. As Dad used to say “If I had known then what I know now….” But that is another subject.

    You all did a great job, as usual. I for one do not hear the ‘bobbles’ because it needs a knowing ear. Those who know best are often their own worse critics.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    January 12, 2020 at 8:26 am

    That was really good!! I listened to it twice. Paul, I thought you all done it justice. I think John Hartford would have been pleased.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 12, 2020 at 8:16 am

    The lyrics of this song are so powerful and persuasive (how can you beat something like “crackling cauldron?”), and while I’m far too ignorant when it comes to all matters musical, Paul seems to hit some mighty fine licks on that little guitar. Add the singing and it was a fine way to start a morning.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 12, 2020 at 8:11 am

    Good job, enjoyed the song and the information. Paul always seems to have a wealth of information on our music!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 12, 2020 at 6:33 am

    Great job, I’ve loved this song for years and the “Baby Guitar” work by Paul works well; it’s obvious he has been “Larnin” to achieve the sound he was looking for. The fiddle work reminds me somehow of another of my favorite country bands “Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys” with the smooth way it naturally blends in with the guitars.

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