Best-known for the pop standard "Gentle on My Mind," John Hartford is a multi-talented musician who plays a variety of stringed instruments. He was also an author and riverboat captain. As a songwriter, he was known for a sharp, off-beat wit and music wavering between folk, modern country, and old-timey string music.

The son of a doctor and a painter, John Hartford was born in New York City on December 30, 1937. When he was an infant, his family moved to St. Louis. It was there that John developed his lifelong passion for the Mississippi and its riverboats. By age 13, he was an accomplished fiddler and five-string banjo player whose main influences were Stringbean and Earl Scruggs. He founded his first bluegrass band in high school and went on to work various odd jobs ranging from a deejay to a deckhand on a riverboat. In the mid '60s he moved to Nashville and began working as a deejay, session man and a songwriter.

In 1966, Hartford released his debut album, "John Hartford Looks at Life," which was produced by Chet Atkins. The following year, he released "Earthwords & Music," which featured his first hit single, "Gentle On My Mind." In 1967, Glen Campbell's cover of the song became a Top 40 country and pop hit in the U.S. Following Campbell's example, a number of other artists, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Aretha Franklin, recorded the song, providing Hartford with enough money to turn his back to pop stardom and record his own music. Still, he became a star of sorts. He appeared regularly on CBS's "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and later on the "Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour." He also played on the Byrds' genre-breaking 1968 album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" and Doug Dillard's "The Banjo Album." By the end of the decade, Hartford also earned his riverboat pilot's license, and frequently worked aboard the "Julia Belle Swain."

In the early 1970s, he recorded two solo albums, "Aero Plain" and "Morning Bugle," and made guest appearances on albums by James Taylor, Seals & Croft, Hoyt Axton and the Dillards. Hartford recorded "Tennessee Jubilee" in 1975 with the assistance of Benny Martin and Lester Flatt. In 1976, he released one of his best albums, "Mark Twang," and continued recording steadily through the '70s and '80s.

Among his most notable albums were his 1980 rock & roll-meets-bluegrass reunion with the Dillards, "Permanent Wave" and Shel Silverstein's ėThe Great Conch Train Robbery.î He began performing with his son Jamie in the late '80s and also became involved with Opryland, where he helped launch an old-fashioned steamboat ride. He recorded and re-issued his earlier work on his own "Small Dog Barking" label. ėSpeed of the Old Long Bowî followed in 1998, and 1999 saw Hartford release his own "Good Old Boys," and the Grammy nominated "Retrograss" with David Grisman and Mike Seeger.