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Tim Hardin

With substantial sentiment and sheer soul, TIM HARDIN was a singer’s singer, honest and intimate, while broaching at least three genres: blues, jazz, and of course, folk. A cult icon in many ways, his role as servile songwriter to the musical magpies of the pop/rock world is well documented, but sadly he was another writer to be passed up when times were hard.
Born Timothy James Hardin, December 23, 1941, Eugene in Oregon, USA, he dropped out of his local high school at 18 and had a short-lived and miserable spell in the Marines. Tim moved to Greenwich Village in the early 60s with little financial means and a heroin habit which was said to have been instigated in his spell in Vietnam. He briefly attended the American Academy of Dramatic Art before dropping out and heading for the Boston folk scene for his earliest forays into the music world. There, HARDIN received a call from manager/producer Erik Jacobsen asking him back up to New York to record some demos for Columbia Records. The company was less than impressed with the results; at this point Tim had yet to develop his subtle, jazz-inflected folk style, instead peddling a rather forgettable strain of awkward, white-boy blues. Some of the material from this period later ended up on LP, passed off as new work and consequently enraging HARDIN, not the first time he’d clash with those trying to guide his career.
Nevertheless, he was already possessed of a unique vocal style, the jazz influence apparent in his phrasing and the way he manipulated notes. Jacobsen showed faith in the singer, and eventually HARDIN was signed to the new Verve-Forecast imprint with the help of producers Charles Koppelman and Don Rubin.
TIM HARDIN 1 (1966) {*8} showcased a marked improvement in his playing, singing and songwriting, the blues pretensions abandoned for a meditative, painfully intimate folk-confessional style, exemplified by the likes of `Misty Roses’ and `How Can We Hang On To A Dream’. From the stripped-down electric blues of `How Long’ (the longest track here at 4½ minutes), to the upbeat `Don’t Make Promises’ (plus `Ain’t Gonna Do Without’) and the native/trad-like `Green Rocky Road’, this was a seminal debut in many guises; there was even room for a rock’n’roll/R&B-styled song, `Smugglin’ Man’. The beauty of the lovelorn `While You’re On Your Way’ and the Bacharach-esque `It’ll Never Happen Again’ (ditto The NEVILLE BROTHERS-ish `Part Of The Wind’) showed he was no one-trick pony. The 28-minute album was also overdubbed with strings, apparently without HARDIN’s consent and much to his disgust, although ironically they added an austere beauty to many of the tracks. The record also featured `Reason To Believe’, like many of HARDIN’s songs, much covered and made famous by other artists (in this case ROD STEWART) while Tim lingered in obscurity.
One cover version that really incensed HARDIN was BOBBY DARIN’s reading of `If I Were A Carpenter’, Tim allegedly claiming that DARIN had the original playing on headphones during the recording so he could replicate HARDIN’s phrasing. The song was just one of the many classics on TIM HARDIN 2 (1967) {*8}, the singer’s most affecting and realised album. Written immediately prior to the birth of his son, Damion, `Black Sheep Boy’ (later, appropriately enough, covered by SCOTT WALKER) was heartrending, `Red Balloon’ bleakly moving, while HARDIN’s hesitant, fragile `Tribute To Hank Williams’ saw the singer detail his ambiguous feelings about live performance. Another classic, `Lady Came From Baltimore’, was also destined for the aforementioned DARIN and WALKER, plus JOAN BAEZ and JOHNNY CASH among others.
HARDIN, performing (when he deigned to turn up), was more about internal catharsis than pleasing the crowd. Acclaimed by DYLAN as the greatest songwriter of the decade, the singer is said to have inspired Bob’s `John Wesley Harding’ (HARDIN often boasted that he was a descendant of the famed outlaw, John Wesley Hardin). Yet despite the brilliance of these two albums, his muse increasingly deserted him as he fell deeper into heroin abuse.
Bypassing an exploitation “blues” LP (recorded in ’64), THIS IS TIM HARDIN (1967) {*5}, issued by Atlantic Records and featuring FRED NEIL’s `Blues On The Ceilin’’, WILLIE DIXON’s `(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man’ and trad cuts `Stagger Lee’, `House Of The Rising Sun’, `I’ve Been Working On The Railroad’ and `Cocaine Bill’, HARDIN was becoming hot property in songwriting circles.
TIM HARDIN 3 LIVE IN CONCERT (1968) {*7} was a jazzy live set that featured re-workings of songs from the first two albums as well as a smattering of new tracks: `You Upset The Grace Of Living When You Lie’, `Lenny’s Tune’ (a homage to Lenny Bruce) and `Danville Dame’ (an early track – from THIS IS – penned with Steve Weber of The HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS).
Shortly after the record’s release, it was announced that HARDIN was suffering from the respiratory disease pleurisy, making his live appearances even more erratic. After an English tour with the group FAMILY (ROGER CHAPMAN, etc.) ended in disaster at the Royal Albert Hall (Tim fell asleep on stage), the singer made a concerted effort to wean himself off heroin. It looked increasingly difficult – as previously mentioned – when Verve Forecast tried to cash in by passing off the release of his Columbia “blues” demos as a new set: TIM HARDIN 4 (1969) {*4}. It was certainly HARDIN at his most musically embryonic, his own earnest originals smothered by readings of WILLIE DIXON’s `Seventh Son’ and BO DIDDLEY’s eponymous ditty.
When his recovery failed, Tim retreated to Woodstock, writing the brutally naked confessional of SUITE FOR SUSAN MOORE AND DAMION – WE ARE – ONE, ONE, ALL IN ONE (1969) {*6}, the first fruits of his new deal with Columbia. The Susan Moore of the title was his wife, who eventually left him soon after the record’s release, HARDIN subsequently spiralling into despair. The album itself (the closest he ever got to the Top 100) was bleak and sombre, reflective of these troubled times with much of the record overburdened via a conscious attempt to bring his affections as aspirations to the ones he loved most. Cryptically and mystifyingly constructed into four “Implication” sections (well, sort of), the set needed some kick up the rear, songs such as `First Love Song’, `Last Sweet Moments’ and/or `Once-Touched By Flame’ too lethargic and oblique to garner new acolytes – and why was his only Top 50 hit, `Simple Song Of Freedom’ (penned incidentally by BOBBY DARIN!) left out? HARDIN subsequently upped sticks to England, registering as an addict in order to procure drugs on the NHS, while releasing a further couple of patchy albums.
BIRD ON A WIRE (1971) {*5} – the title and song taken from LEONARD COHEN’s choice cut – was HARDIN’s eloquent attempt at hitting the big time, albeit utilising gospel and sedate soul on a half-dozen decent, if not must-have originals (such as `Moonshiner’ and `Andre Johray’) alongside further covers of Hoagy Carmichael’s `Georgia On My Mind’ (made famous by RAY CHARLES), JOHN LEE HOOKER’s `Hoboin’’ and Joe Hayes & Jack Rhodes’ `A Satisfied Mind’.
PAINTED HEAD (1973) {*5} – a full selection of covers – was HARDIN at his lowest ebb, a man long-gone in the credibility stakes, ironically happy to reinterpret from outside sources, while bemoaning other artists for trying his repertoire. Anyway, the country-ish formula worked on some tracks like JESSE WINCHESTER’s `Yankee Lady’, RANDY NEWMAN’s `I’ll Be Home’, Neil Sheppard’s `Till We Meet Again’ and the Pete Ham/BADFINGER pairing, `Midnight Caller’ and `Perfection’; a few others stemmed from WILLIE DIXON and other bluesmen. Neither this nor the previous work sold well, and a film role as WOODY GUTHRIE in a proposed biopic, Bound For Glory, came to nothing.
HARDIN recorded a final album, NINE (1973) {*5}, with an array of English session players including ANDY BOWN, PETER FRAMPTON, John Mealing (soon to be a STRAWB), Jimmy Horowitz, LESLEY DUNCAN, etc. Saddled side by side with HARDIN originals (including re-treads `Blues On The Ceiling’ and `While You’re On Your Way’), Tim tackled the odd cover: JAMES TAYLOR’s `Fire And Rain’, Domenic Troiano’s `Is There No Rest For The Weary’, Oscar Brown Jr’s `Rags And Old Iron’.
Struggling in future years with psychological problems, HARDIN moved back to L.A. where he tragically overdosed (acute heroin-morphine intoxication) in Hollywood on December 29th, 1980. He was only 39, another star cut short well before his time.
Straight away, there were the obvious cash-in albums, one of them THE HOMECOMING CONCERT (1982) {*6} taking precedence over others due its historical value, having his last recordings in L.A. from early 1980.
© MC Strong 1994-2019/GRD-GFD // rev-up MCSJul2012

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