Posted on April 6, 2017
50 Years of Peace & Music | 4. Tim Hardin
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, August 1969–2019
Day One, Performer 4
Performed Friday night, August 15, 8:45–9:30 pm
Tim Hardin: vocals, guitar
Richard Bock: cello
Ralph Towner: guitar, piano
Bill Chelf: piano
Gilles Malkine: guitar
Glen Moore: bass
Steve “Muruga” Booker: drums
Woodstock set list:
- How Can We Hang On to a Dream?
- If I Were a Carpenter
- Reason To Believe
- You Upset the Grace of Living When You Lie
- Speak Like a Child
- Snow White Lady
- Blues on the Ceilin’
- Simple Song of Freedom
- Misty Roses
Tim Hardin was a respected songwriter who lived a tortured life on and off the stage. His performance on the first day of Woodstock was marred by the performer’s legendary stage fright and his debilitating addiction to heroin.
He grew up in Eugene, Oregon, the son of a classical musician mother and a domineering father. A disinterested student, Hardin dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Marines at the age of 18, where he developed his taste for heroin. Returning to Eugene for a time after he was discharged, he arrived in New York in 1961 and gravitated toward Greenwich Village, ostensibly to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He was dismissed from the school and turned to music, performing mostly blues in the Village. He befriended Fred Neil (“Everybody’s Talkin'”), “Mama Cass” Elliot, and John Sebastian and began writing songs tinged with despair and romanticism. Hardin drew on his life experiences to create simple songs. In a 1968 interview, Hardin looked back, saying, “When I started, I was a terrible guitar player. Six months after I started, I was broke, so I gave lessons to college kids to make money. There are now an awful lot of very bad young guitar players around America as a result. Because of this, I started out writing my own material because I wasn’t good enough to cope with anyone else’s involved arrangements. That’s why my songs are simple.”
Growing impatient, Hardin moved to Boston, where he performed his songs in small clubs. He was signed to a contract with Columbia Records and recorded a number of demos in the studio. Columbia terminated his contract less than a year later, and none of the demos were released (they would later be released as Tim Hardin 4 and This is Tim Hardin). He moved again, this time to Los Angeles, where he met his future wife and muse, Susan Yardley. Returning to New York, Hardin signed with Verve Forecast and released his first album in 1966. Tim Hardin 1 was an artful mix of blues, country, rock, jazz, and ballads, including “Reason to Believe,” “How Can We Hang On to a Dream?,” and “Misty Roses.” Critics have ranked Hardin’s debut album among the most important of the era, comparing it to Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. He moved back to Los Angeles shortly before the debut album was released, and there he recorded the songs for his second album. Tim Hardin 2, released in 1967, contained “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Red Balloon,” and “Black Sheep Boy.” Rocker-turned-lounge-singer Bobby Darin recorded “If I Were a Carpenter” and released his single before Hardin could release his version, and Darin’s record became a huge hit. Hardin’s songs were recorded by a range of artists, including Rod Stewart’s recording of “Reason to Believe” and others by everyone from Joan Baez and Johnny Cash to The Carpenters, The Four Tops, Johnny Rivers, and even Robert Plant and Neil Young. But Hardin was yet to have one of his own singles make the charts.
Tim Hardin was loved by the critics and admired by other performers who recorded his songs, but his extreme stage fright and addiction to heroin made him an unreliable live performer. He canceled or skipped scheduled shows, and when he did appear, he was often not fit to perform. He didn’t tour to promote his second album, and in the process, he missed the career boost he would have gotten from Bobby Darin’s success with his song. In early 1969, Hardin was signed to Columbia Records and released his version of Bobby Darin’s “Simple Song of Freedom,” which ironically would be his only charting single. Verve released The Best of Tim Hardin that year, giving many of the Woodstock festival attendees later that summer a familiarity with his songs.
At Woodstock, it was not even certain that Tim Hardin would perform. Festival organizers had asked him to go on earlier in the day, but he refused. The heroin had made him lethargic and heightened his stage fright. When he finally did go on, his vocals were slurred and his performance sluggish. He managed to perform a ten-song set, but it was not his best performance. He opened with a melancholy solo performance of “How Can We Hang On to a Dream?,” then was joined by his six-member backing band for the rest of his 45-minute set.
After Woodstock, Hardin released an experimental album of songs inspired by his wife, entitled Suite for Susan Moore. The album drew mixed reviews. Continuing his endless wandering and searching, he moved to Hawaii for a time, then San Francisco, then Los Angeles, and then to Colorado. He landed in Woodstock, New York, where he stayed for a time. He cancelled a scheduled European tour in support of a live album, Tim Hardin 3, and Verve cancelled his contract. Susan, fed up by his heroin addiction, took their son and moved back to California. Hardin moved to London and registered as a drug addict so he could receive free methadone, and he split his time between the U.K. and the U.S. He died of a heroin/morphine overdose in Hollywood, California on December 29, 1980 at the age of 39, virtually forgotten by the public. His only apparent legacy was his songs that others performed, until a tribute album in 2013 revived interest in the man behind the songs.
Members of Tim Hardin’s Woodstock band continue to perform. Steve “Muruga” Booker continues to drum with various artists. Gilles Malkine, guitarist, lives in Woodstock, New York, and is an actor, guitarist, artist, writer, disability advocate, illustrator, cartoonist, and composer. Glen Moore and Ralph Towner, bassist and guitarist, respectively, founded the jazz/world music group Oregon and remain active studio musicians. Cellist Richard Bock continued to play for some time and is now owner and operator of Giuseppe’s restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona. Pianist Bill Chelf is a session musician playing a wide range of musical styles form jazz to country rock and currently performs “hypnotic-ambient-space music.”
Next performer: Ravi Shankar