Born December 23, 1941, in Eugene, OR; died of an overdose, December 29, 1980, in Los Angeles, CA.
Highly regarded for his plaintive songs whose lyrics searched for elusive answers, Tim Hardin was a tragic figure in the world of folk music who showed great promise with his early albums but then became sidetracked by drug problems and disappointment over his career. Although "Tim Hardin was one of the more memorable singer- songwriters of his day," according to Richie Unterberger in the Rough Guide website, his songs, including "Reason to Believe" and "If I Were a Carpenter," were more known from their cover versions by Bobby Darin, the Four Tops, Rod Stewart, Wilson Phillips, Colin Blunstone, Scott Walker, and other artists than from Hardin's original recordings. "But Hardin's own versions are graced by one inestimable virtue: his voice--a matchless instrument that sounds world-weary and pained at one moment, hopeful and open-hearted the next," wrote Anthony DeCurtis in the liner notes for Tim Hardin: Reason to Believe (The Best Of) in 1994. David Bourne added in the New York Times that his "tensely hushed voice, with its hint of sandpaper, took the lyrics far beyond cliche."
Hardin loved the blues, and many of his songs merged blues and folk styles. He also had a jazz musician's sense of improvisation. As Bourne stated that Hardin's "arrangements were those of a jazz musician's, and his phrasing lies somewhere between folk and blues." The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music called his music "a unique blend of poetic/folk blues." Hardin's songs were tender and often confessional in tone, filled with longing and a sense of desperation.In his lyrics he lamented dreams that had gone unfulfilled and love that proved highly vulnerable to disappointment. As he sang in "It'll Never Happen Again," "Why can't you be/The way I want you to be?" Musically, his pieces got right to the core of an emotion with melodies that seemed simple but were deceptively complex. Hardin's songs "were terse and economical, rarely more than three minutes long, and the arrangements forsook traditional folk-rock touches for unconventional instrumentation like vibes and brush drums," wrote Bourne.
"How can we hang on to a dream/How can it really be the way it seems," Hardin wrote in "How Can We Hang On to a Dream," a sentiment that summed up many of his songs. Even Hardin's performing style illustrated his lack of certainty, as he improvised often and rarely sang a lyric the same way twice, according to DeCurtis. Many of his songs were confessional, almost resembling therapy sessions for the artist. "As Bourne said, "An egotist and something of an exhibitionist, Mr. Hardin didn't hesitate to use his songs to chronicle his marriage, the birth of his son, divorce and the inner turmoil brought on by success and its temptations."
Both of Hardin's parents had musical training, and his mother, Molly Small Hardin, was one of the most highly regarded violinists in the country, having served as concertmaster of the Portland Symphony Orchestra when her son was a boy. His father had played in jazz bands while in the army and in college before embarking on a career in real estate. Many famous classical performers visited the Hardin home, but none swayed Hardin toward an interest in their type of music or in any formal music education. "I started fooling around with the guitar in high school and I sang in the Eugene high school choir," said Hardin, according to The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music. "I never thought of going to college, really, in my life. If you've any kind of talent, man, it just restricts you."
Seeking an identity for himself, Hardin enlisted in the Marine Corps after dropping out of high school. During tours of duty in Cambodia and Laos he further honed his guitar playing and built up a repertoire of folk songs. Upon release from the Corps, he headed east for New York City and briefly studied acting before moving on to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became a key member of the growing folk music scene. Before long, Hardin was one of the favorite performers at coffeehouses and small clubs in Cambridge. By 1964 he had developed a following in the folk clubs of New York City's Greenwich Village as well. "His stunning voice and easy way of blending folk, blues and jazz influences steadily earned him a reputation on the folk scene around Boston and, after he returned in 1963, New York," said DeCurtis. Hardin composed many of his songs in Woodstock, New York, where he lived around the same time that Bob Dylan and The Band were living there.
One of Hardin's early fans was Erik Jacobsen, a record producer who had worked with the Lovin' Spoonful. Jacobsen helped Hardin record some demos for Columbia that were mostly blues numbers. Hardin was also interested in rhythm and blues at this time, but before long he began to shape the folk voice that established his reputation. After he delivered an impressive performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1966, Verve signed him to a recording contract that resulted in the release of his first album, Tim Hardin 1, that same year. Contributing to the album were noted artists John Sebastian, on harmonica, and jazz instrumentalist Gary Burton, on vibes. Many of Hardin's most critically acclaimed and enduring songs appeared on this LP, including "Misty Roses," "How Can We Hang On to a Dream," and the much-covered "Reason to Believe." Despite the largely positive response to Tim Hardin 1, Hardin was deeply disappointed by some of the musical elements added in the studio without his permission, especially overdubbing of strings. Various accounts claim that he actually cried when he first heard the final version.
Critical acclaim for Hardin's first album led to the release of his earlier recordings on an LP entitled This Is Tim Hardin. His star continued to rise with Tim Hardin 2 in 1967, which featured his famous "If I Were a Carpenter," a song that Bobby Darin made a Top Ten hit. The song was also a hit for the Four Tops, and Johnny Cash and June Carter. Now in demand on the folk circuit, Hardin toured steadily throughout the U.S. and Europe during the next several years. However, the quality of his work began to decline due to his own combativeness in the studio, addiction to heroin, drinking problems, and frustration over his lack of commercial success. He often performed poorly or missed shows due to health problems, and at one point actually fell asleep on stage at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1968. That year he released Tim Hardin 3, which featured some jazz-tinged numbers.
In 1971 Hardin moved to England, where he remained for seven years while performing there and throughout Europe. His albums recorded in the early 1970s paled in comparison to his first albums, by most accounts. A dirth of creativity was made clear by his 1973 album Painted Head, which contained no original songs. His last original album, Tim Hardin 9, was produced that same year. After moving back to the United States, he based himself in California and set out to find an audience for his work. He continued to perform intermittently in England and on the west coast of the United States as he grappled with health and psychological problems. After reconnecting with Don Rubin, his former executive producer and music publisher during his association with Verve, he began work on a new album for Polygram in late 1980. When he died from an overdose of heroin and morphine in December of that year, he was largely unknown by the listening public.
by Ed Decker
Tim Hardin's Career
Began playing guitar as a teenager; dropped out of high school to enlist in Marines, late 1950s; studied acting in New York City, early 1960s; began playing in coffeehouses in Cambridge, MA, early 1960s; recorded demos for Columbia, early 1960s; became popular performer in Greenwich Village folk clubs, 1963; released first album, Tim Hardin 1, Verve/Forecast, 1966; appeared in Newport Folk Festival, 1966; toured frequently in U.S. and abroad, late 1960s; cancelled tour in England after developing pleurisy, 1968; performed at Woodstock music festival, 1969; moved to England, 1971; released last album, Tim Hardin 9, 1973; was considered for role of Woody Guthrie in Bound for Glory, 1976.
- Selective Works
- Tim Hardin 1, Verve/Forecast, 1966.
- Tim Hardin 2, Verve/Forecast, 1967.
- Suite for Susan Moore and Damion, Columbia, 1969.
- Bird on a Wire, Columbia, 1981.
- Tim Hardin: Reason to Believe (The Best Of), Polydor, 1987.
- Hang On to a Dream--The Verve Recordings, Polydor, 1994.
February 19, 2004: Bauer died on February 19, 2004, at his home in Sequim, Washington, of bone marrow cancer. He was 84. Source: Peninsula Daily News, www.peninsuladailynews.com, February 22, 2004.
- Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989, pp. 513~514.
- Clifford, Mike, consultant, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Harmony Books, 1988, p.73.
- Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 1, Guinness Publishing, 1992.
- Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music, St. Martin's Press, 1983, pp. 297~299.
- Periodicals Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1995, Section 6, p. 4.
- Melody Maker, April 22, 1989, p. 34.
- New York Times, February 20, 1994, Section 2, p. 30.
- San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 1994, p. 35.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes to Reason to Believe (The Best Of) and The Rough Guide to Rock Internet website, Penguin, 1996.