In Memoriam: Jack Hardy, 1947 – 2011
Jack Hardy, Thank You
By JEFF GOLD
March 11, 2011.
THE FIRST TIME THAT I SAW JACK HARDY was in 1975 at one my first open mics at the legendary Gerdes Folk City. I had sat through about 30 performers by that time, some good but most, not so good. He came to the stage in a stained white t-shirt and started singing this song that started, “I carried your memory like a chain around my neck,” and I immediately sat up in my chair and sat transfixed for the next 7 or 8 minutes thinking, “Why is this person playing at an open mike on a late Tuesday night when he should be playing at Carnegie Hall to sold out audiences?” I couldn’t believe that this person didn’t have a record deal.
I thought I was watching what the music world was waiting for: The next Bob Dylan. I was that floored by not only his songs but the incredible stories that he told as the set-up to each one. I introduced myself to him, told him how much I enjoyed his music and when he found out that I was also a songwriter he invited me to a little café on Cornelia Street in the west village where he led a song circle.
I was very new to this songwriting stuff so I really didn’t know what a song circle was. I was writing songs in my room in Staten Island and thought that I would take the city by storm with my incredible songs. Little did I know! The next night I got on the ferry with my guitar and went to this song circle and it was the night that changed my life.
I was nervous when I arrived, and Jack greeted me and asked me if I had a new song and I told him no. He said that the first time I could play my newest song but the rule of the song circle, or song exchange as it was actually called, was to every week bring something new to play, it doesn’t have to be a complete song, it could just be a lyric or a melody and then you could play the song that you played the previous week hopefully completed or improved. So I played my song and I was soon to see how much I really had to learn to actually call myself a “Songwriter.” I heard Jack do a great song that night as well as Maggie Roche, George Gerdes, Tom Intondi and just one great song after another. I felt really small!
The thing about this gathering of incredible talent that I immediately noticed was how supportive everyone was of each other and any comments made about peoples’ songs were done to help, not hurt. During a break Jack came up to me and the first thing that he asked me in his famous gravelly voice was, “What is your song about?” He also told me to keep a daily journal and to write in it everyday. He told me that a good melody is one that can be sung without any accompaniment and he was the one that taught me that songwriting can be a serious art form if done well. The advice that he gave me that I always have in the back of my head is the painful lesson of throwing out the best line of a song, if it doesn’t work.
I could go on about all the things that I and hundreds of other songwriters learned from Jack Hardy but besides being a teacher and leader of a folk movement that produced an incredible list of great songwriters like the Roches, Suzanne Vega, Lucy Kaplansky, Nancy Griffith, Steve Forbert Shaun Colvin and many more, Jack was one of the best damn songwriters that ever lived.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “The Fast Folk Musical Magazine” started by Jack and worked on by all of us to get the great new songs being written out to the public as soon as possible. A great idea that blossomed. Every month the subscribers would hear almost 20 new songs performed in their simplest form. I remember going to Mark Dan’s house as he recorded all 20 songwriters in the same day — one or two takes at the most. It was an idea that worked, and it caught on and lasted for about eight years with little or no funding, except for the subscribers.
Jack was the driving force behind the magazine. He then helped open up a club in the village called the Speakeasy, which was run as a co-op for the songwriters by the songwriters. It was an innovative idea — especially in New York — but Jack, with the help of all the songwriter and non-songwriter volunteers, made it work. Those were great times for a songwriter to be in New York.
In 1988 I moved to Los Angeles and met a great bunch of songwriters here. So I started up a song circle based on Jack’s format: new songs over pasta and wine in my Hollywood apartment. And people loved it. After a short while I called Jack and told him about all the great songs that I had heard and he said “Let’s do a Fast Folk CD of L.A. songwriters,” and we did.
Today is a tough day for many people , but the one saving grace is that we are left with an incredible body of work of original, poetic, intelligent, political, funny and most of all, heartfelt songs. Some of the greatest that I have ever heard and influenced my style more than anybody.
Now I’m sitting here with a Guinness beside me thinking of all the great memories that I have hanging out with Jack, playing shows in Binghamton , backing him up on guitar at Kenny’s Castaways, bottles of wine in his Houston St. apartment, amazing songs being heard for the first time, his incredible shows with his brother Jeff on bass and Joe Henderson on guitar, what magic that was. Now it is gone.
Jack Hardy was an original. His voice, his mannerisms, his love of women, wine and song, all seemed larger than life. He could be harsh at times and made some enemies along the way, but that was Jack. He could be brutally blunt and he loved being the center of the circle but he earned that right with his hard work, his vision and his leadership abilities and most of all, his talent. He didn’t give a hoot about the music business, just about the business of writing a great song. I always respected and admired that about him.
I have lost many friends along the way but this one really stings.
So thank you Jack, for the memories, the inspiration and most of all , the songs.
When you’re born you make a promise
When you die it is fulfilled
That you cannot take it with you
It’ll stay just as it’s built
So in harmony with nature
As the parent to your child
You will leave it as you found it
Just as sacred and as wild
From “The Promise” by Jack Hardy
Jeff Gold is a singer-songwriter, teacher, and the owner of West Valley Music Center in West Hills, California, a music store that offers sales, lessons and rentals as well as the I’m With The Band program for children 7 to 17, as well as a new and already beloved L.A. folk music tradition, the Monthly Acoustic concert series, in which Jeff hosts performances by many of the best songwriters in town in one of Los Angeles’ most intimate listening rooms.