Under the covers

Last night, over the credits of “The Sopranos”, the song “If I were a Carpenter” played. A somewhat spooky moment followed, as I discussed the track with Lieve, I had a similar conversation with Emma when the episode first aired in May of 2004.

Back then, I hadn’t known the artist. I enjoy cover versions, and had no idea how many times this track had been covered. It was Bobby Darrin, I was more familiar with the Johnny Cash and June Carter rendition, and didn’t know that Bobby’s version was much more popular. My personal favorite is Leon Russell’s version, from his “Stop all that Jazz” album.

Lieve heard the song begin and said “Isn’t that Tim somebody?”. She typically knows more than me when it comes to music, so we Googled the song and found that indeed, the song had been written by Tim Hardin. “Who?” you may ask (I did), is Tim Hardin? Tim was a singer songwriter in the sixties, and performed “If I were a Carpenter” at Woodstock, backed by Muruga Booker on drums. Oh but that’s not all. Tim wrote several other songs you have heard. He wrote “Reason to Believe”, which you are most likely to recall Rod Stewart turning into a hit. “Don’t make Promises” was covered by Joan Baez as well as a dozen other artists. “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce” was covered by Nico on her debut album. His music is timeless enough to have been covered by Echo and the Bunnymen and The Dream Academy. Tim had one of those interesting careers that began as a “Military adviser” in Vietnam, where he found what would end his life twenty years later at age thirty nine, heroin. He played as a studio musician on Harry Chapin’s first two albums, and appeared on stage with Harry in 1973. And yet I had never even heard of him. Life is like that, big world, too many faces. Tim died in a year of too many musician’s endings, John Bonham, Bon Scott, Ian Curtis, Darby Crash, all overshadowed by John Lennon.

This morning I have been going through the covers by scores of musicians, listening to the originals, getting a feel for his message. I always enjoy covers, reinterpretations and homages. Back in the days of Napster I collected forty seven covers of Jimi Hendix’s “Little Wing“, one nice version by Celtic circle stands out in my mind. A cover reveals not only the composer, but the effect the composer has had on other musicians. James Timothy “Tim” Hardin had an enormous effect on the world of music, and I’m better for knowing of him.

Tim Hardin in 1969

Tim Hardin in 1969





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