The 5 Grammys & 5 Lives of John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind”

Kim Campbell accepting Glen Campbell's Grammy
Kim Campbell accepting Glen Campbell’s Grammy

In the morning after the 2015 Grammy Awards, the big story threads were about how British singer Sam Smith won big, about Beck’s Morning Phase becoming the year’s surprise winner for Best Album, and Kanye West’s second attempt at ill-begotten chivalry. But there was another man who won big, and arguably dominated the early, non-televised country portion of the awards whose recognition shouldn’t go overlooked. And that’s Glen Campbell.

Ailing from Alzheimer’s, forced to cut his career short, Glen Campbell walked away with the evening’s Best Country Song award for “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” Campbell wrote the song with Julian Raymond for the soundtrack of the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me about Campbell’s battles with Alzheimers disease.

And it wasn’t the only Grammy Award doled out with Glen Campbell ties. From that same documentary soundtrack, The Band Perry walked away with Best Country Duo/Group Performance for a song once made famous by Campbell, “Gentle On My Mind.”

It’s hard to not factor in that the sympathy vote was in strong order for the two Glen Campbell songs receiving awards, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t deserved. In a field thin on songs that resonated beyond their commercial performance, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” was the only critical choice in the category, and the same can be said for “Gentle On My Mind.”

When Saving Country Music announced both the nomination, and the win for “Gentle On My Mind,” John Hartford fans were not shy in speaking up for the songwriter who has “Gentle On My Mind” as one of his credits. No disrespect was meant to Hartford, but as is so many times the case, the songwriter’s recognition through a song is subordinate to the performer who made it famous. In the case of “Gentle On My Mind” and the 2015 Grammy Awards, Campbell’s involvement was even more important to note, since the song was performed in tribute to the ailing star.

John Hartford
John Hartford

But John Hartford indeed wrote the song, performed it, and released it, and it is once again a reminder of how the quirky bluegrass player and patriarch of “Newgrass” never seems to receive the due recognition his contributions to the country music art form deserve. Hartford is a perennial A-lister in Saving Country Music’s yearly recommendations for Country Music Hall of Fame inductees because of these deep and varied contributions, and “Gentle On My Mind” winning a Grammy 47 years after it was written is yet another piece of evidence in support of this stance.

But it isn’t the song’s first Grammy Award.

Originally recorded and released in 1967, “Gentle On My Mind” walked away with a whopping four Grammy Awards in 1968. It awarded Glen Campbell “Best Country & Western Solo Vocal Performance, Male” and “Best Country & Western Recording” notoriety at the awards, while John Hartford walked away with two Grammys himself, one for “Best Folk Performance” for his original version of the song, and “Best Country & Western Song” awarded to the songwriter. “Gentle On My Mind” winning another Grammy nearly 50 years after it first received this distinction puts the song and John Hartford in very elite company.

To go along with the five Grammy Awards for “Gentle On My Mind,” it has been recorded five times by high profile artists who have either charted and/or had award success with it as a single. Beyond Hartford’s original version and Glen Campbell’s cover, Dean Martin and Patti Page both recorded the song in 1968, and both scored Top 10 hits on the Easy Listening charts with it. Then in 1969, Aretha Franklin got in the game and had another successful single.

Beyond these more decorated versions, “Gentle On My Mind” has been recorded by Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, Tammy Wynette, and even R.E.M. just to name a few of the dozens of versions.

It was also the theme song to Campbell’s The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

In every sense, “Gentle On My Mind” has become an American standard by sharing the sentiment of a generational mood ever present in the human experience. And its 2015 Grammy is just more validation for the song’s timeless impact, and the timeless impact of the song’s writer, John Hartford.

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