2019 Grateful 10: Gentle On My Mind

Scrolling through Facebook recently, I saw a friend had posted his playlist and at No. 3 was Glen Campbell’s Gentle on my mind. It’s one of my favourite songs, even if I am a self-professed illiterate when it comes to music.

Within a day or so, another friend had posted The Petersens covering the same song. This bluegrass band hails from Branson MO and apart from North America, they’ve toured Ireland three times! My shame for never having heard of them. The six of them – three Petersen sisters, one brother, one mother, and a family friend – are incredibly talented in their own right.

Katie is the oldest Petersen sibling and the musical leader of the group. She plays the fiddle. She has a BSc in Chemistry and Spanish and spent time in Oxford, UK, studying C.S. Lewis and the Psalms – an interesting combination. She’s also taught music and English in Nicaragua and now back in MI, she’s still giving fiddle and piano lessons while writing songs and leading the band. Next is Ellen on banjo. She, too, has a BSc in Chemistry that goes nicely with her MBA. A former American Idol contestant, she made it to the last 48. When she’s not playing with the group, she teaches Business Communications to undergraduates. Matt runs the band, plays the guitar, and tries his hand at comedy. He puts his BA in Business to good use by taking care of the band’s bookings, schedules, and technical details. The youngest, Julianne, was running sound and lights for the band when she was eight! She balances her studies with playing the mandolin. Mum Karen has an MA in Music Theory. She traded in her mandolin for a double bass when Julianne started to play. What a family. The latest addition to the band is Emmett Franz. Emmett plays the dobro. He toured professionally with The Franz Family for 20 years so is no stranger to the stage. So much for having to chose between academia and music – this lot seem to have made it work.

The Petersens perform as often as four times a week – they’re a busy band and much appreciated for their ‘acoustic music, clean comedy, and family values’. Their latest album, their first completely Gospel album, Homesick for a Country, is bluegrass gospel at its best.

After that nice little detour to the Ozarks, yet another mate posted John Hartford’s version of the same song.  I’d never heard of him either. But John Hartford is the chap who wrote the song made famous by Glen Campbell. It was also covered by Dean Martin and Patti Page. In fact, in 1968, all three versions made the top ten in the US easy listening charts. The song won Hartford two Grammys in 1968 – Best Folk Performance and Best Country & Western Song (songwriter). And that same year, Campbell also won two Grammys for his cover – Best Country & Western Solo Vocal Performance – Male and Best Country & Western Recording. Later, other luminaries like Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin would interpret it, too. Mind you, Aretha’s version takes some getting used to.

When asked about what inspired it, Hartford said he’d just been to see the movie Doctor Zhivago. It took him just 30 minutes to get it all down.

I went to see the movie Doctor Zhivago the night I wrote it. Everyone’s made a whole lot out of that. I know it gave me a feeling that caused me to start writing, but as far as saying it came from that, I don’t know. It just came from experience. While I was writing it, if I had any idea that [it] was going to be a hit, it probably would have come out differently and it wouldn’t have been a hit. That just came real fast, a blaze, a blur.

Alison Krauss’s 2017 cover is probably the most recent – fifty years after it was first released. How many songs written in 2019 will still be covered 50 years from now I wonder.

Hartford had a pretty amazing life. He won more Grammys including one for the songs he recorded for the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou. And if you saw the movie Lady Bird, you might recognise his Eve of Parting. But apart from being an accomplished singer/songwriter/musician/clogger, he once turned down a role as a TV detective. He also held a Steamboat licence and from his home on the Cumberland River, Madison, TN, he’d talk to boat captains by radio, so much so that his particular bend became known as Hartford’s Bend or John Hartford Point. For a man I’d never heard of at the start of this week, Hartford is obviously a man who will never be forgotten.

Much and all as I malign Facebook, occasionally it prompts to me to go to places I’ve never been – and for that prompting, I’m grateful.



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