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Woodstock Performers: Tim Hardin

Rockin’ before she could walk, Kaili is a vinyl hound who knows the words to every post-1960 song.

Photo of Tim from an April 1969 trade ad

Photo of Tim from an April 1969 trade ad

Tim Hardin at Woodstock

The Woodstock festival was on August 15-18th, 1969. Appearing on Day 1 before Tim was up-and-comer Bert Sommer, who received the first standing ovation of the festival. The next artist up after Tim was sitar master Ravi Shankar.

Tim Hardin was already a well-respected songwriter by the time Woodstock rolled around. But, his stage fright and well-known heroin addiction meant that he performed what could best be described as an erratic set on the opening day of the Woodstock festival.

Who Was Tim Hardin?

James Timothy Hardin was born on December 23, 1941 and was raised in Eugene, Oregon. His mother was a classical musician, and though Hardin inherited her love of music, his childhood was otherwise unhappy. His father was domineering, and young Hardin struggled in school, eventually dropping out to join the US Marine Corps. It was while stationed in Vietnam that he reportedly developed his appetite for heroin.

Upon his release from the Corps, he returned briefly to Eugene and then made his way to New York City in 1961 to attend the American Academy for Dramatic Art. Hardin remained a disinterested student and began hanging around in Greenwich Village, immersing himself in the folk and blues scene and playing folk and blues numbers whenever the opportunity arose. The Academy ultimately tossed Hardin out due to his poor attendance record. It was during his time in the Village that he became friends with “Mama Cass” Elliot, John Sebastian and Fred Neil (of “Everybody’s Talkin'” fame).

Growing impatient with his lack of success in New York, Hardin moved to Boston in 1963 and began playing clubs there. Spotted by record producer Erik Jacobsen (of Lovin' Spoonful fame) in a club one night, Hardin was signed to a contract with Columbia Records, recording a number of demos in their New York studio, none of which were released. Columbia terminated their agreement after less than a year. Tired of the east coast scene, Hardin headed for LA in 1965, where he met his future wife and the inspiration for a number of his songs, Susan Yardley.

Columbia hadn't known quite what to do with Hardin, but Verve did. And so it was that Hardin found himself back in New York—with Susan in tow—recording his first LP for Verve in 1966 called simply "Tim Hardin 1." It contained one of his best known songs "Reason To Believe." Before his debut album was released, the couple moved back to LA in support of Susan's acting career, and Hardin went back into the studio to record a new batch of songs for his second album "Tim Hardin 2." This was the album that should have catapulted him to stardom, as it contained the now well-known song "If I Were a Carpenter." But singer Bobby Darin was able to release the song as a single before Hardin could release his own. Darin's version went on to peak at the #8 spot for two weeks on October 30th, 1966. Hardin was ultimately dropped by Verve, which was really too bad. Hardin was capable of writing beautiful, simple songs, and the critics loved him. But his debilitating stage fright and heroin addiction made him unreliable as a performer. He often skipped shows or was otherwise incapable of performing when he did show up. He didn't tour to promote the second LP, and so missed another huge opportunity.

In 1969, it was payback time. Hardin signed back on with Columbia Records, and in March of that year, he released a single written by Bobby Darin called "Simple Song of Freedom" that entered Billboard's Hot 100 chart a few weeks before Woodstock.

The timing could not have been more perfect.

If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady

Would you marry me anyway?

Would you have my baby?

If a tinker were my trade, would you still find me

Carrying the pots I made, following behind me?

— Tim Hardin

Tim Hardin's Woodstock Set

Hardin had actually moved to Woodstock in the late 1960s, so getting to the site was not a real problem for him. What was a problem, however, was his heroin use. He had been asked earlier in the day if he could possibly open the festival, as so many other performers had still not arrived. But the fact that he was already high and that, coupled with his terrible stage fright, made putting Hardin out there to kick things off just too risky.

Hardin finally took the stage just before 9:00 p.m. on Friday night for what would be a 40-minute set. He started with a solo number, "(How Can We) Hang on to a Dream," and was then joined onstage by his terrific backup band—Gilles Malkine (guitar), Glen Moore (bass), Ralph Towner (guitar and piano), Bill Chelf (piano), Steve "Muruga" Booker (drums) and Richard Bock (cello). They performed another nine songs, including "Misty Roses," "Reason To Believe" and "If I Were a Carpenter." Hardin was slurring his words and looking pretty wobbly, and he and his backing musicians finished up just as the rain started to come down.

Tim Hardin Performing "If I Were A Carpenter" at Woodstock

I really wanted Tim Hardin to be at the festival. I figured Woodstock could be Tim's big break. I had told him about it months and months before and he got really excited about playing, but when he got to the site he got high and did a disappointing set. It was a shame.

— Michael Lang, co-creator of Woodstock, in the book "Woodstock: Three Days That Rocked the World"

Life After Woodstock

Hardin's life began to unravel after the festival. He cancelled a tour that had been arranged to support a new live album, and was dropped by Verve again. Back with Columbia, he recorded a batch of long, rambling songs for an experimental album that was released to very mixed reviews and produced no singles. Growing more and more disillusioned and restless, Hardin moved to Hawaii for a time, then back to the west coast, then again to Woodstock.

Susan had had enough and took their son Damion and moved back to LA. It was around this time that Hardin sold the rights to his songs "for a briefcase full of money" and moved to the UK, where he could receive free methadone by registering as a drug addict. He continued to record and perform intermittently, splitting his time between the US and the UK.

On December 29, 1980, Hardin died of a heroin/morphine overdose in Hollywood, California, just six days after his 39th birthday.

Covers of Tim Hardin's Woodstock Songs

A number of the achingly beautiful songs that Hardin performed at Woodstock have been covered by other artists over the years. Examples include:

  • "(How Can We) Hang on to a Dream" was also recorded by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Nice and Fleetwood Mac, to name but a few.
  • "If I Were a Carpenter" has been covered by literally dozens of artists, including Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Elton John and Robert Plant. Versions by Bobby Darin, The Four Tops, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash and Bob Seeger have all charted.
  • "Reason To Believe" was a hit for Rod Stewart in 1971 and also did respectably well for The Carpenters. Other versions include those by Ricky Nelson, Peter, Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Andy Williams and Glen Campbell.
  • "Misty Roses", which was his closing number at Woodstock, was from his first LP and was one of his most covered songs. Artists who also recorded this beautiful song include Sonny Bono, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, The Zombies and The Fifth Dimension.

Imagine the royalties that all of these various covers must have generated.

Rod Stewart Performing "Reason to Believe"

Five Musical Facts About Tim Hardin

  1. According to guitarist Gilles Malkine, Hardin was just pretending to be stoned at Woodstock because he was too afraid to go on first.
  2. Hardin's performance is not included in the 1970 Woodstock film, but he was included in D.A. Pennebaker's Woodstock Diary. I highly recommend this DVD, as it includes performances not in the 1970 film, including songs by artists like Bert Sommer and Quill.
  3. Bob Dylan once referred to Tim Hardin as "the country’s greatest living songwriter.”
  4. Hardin came to John Sebastian's rescue when Sebastian needed a guitar for his set at Woodstock on Saturday, lending him a " very serviceable Harmony Sovereign."
  5. Tim's son Damion and his mother, Hardin’s ex-wife Susan, were eventually able to secure a piece of the royalties from the copyrights that Tim had sold.

© 2019 Kaili Bisson


Bernadette Morris on June 23, 2020:

Thank you Kaili for this article. I adore Tim’s music A wonderful genius. Wish he was still here

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on May 27, 2019:

Hi Steven,

Wow! You were very fortunate to have seen him live, especially more than once. He was such a tortured soul for sure, but he left us with so much beautiful music.

Steven Haffner on May 26, 2019:

An enormous talent. Saw him at Cafe A Go Go, later at Woodstock and the last time at the Terra Nova club in NYC. Tortured soul, but what a voice ... and those songs.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on March 17, 2019:

Hi Flourish, I know...can you just imagine the music that was still inside him? Such a great talent lost.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 17, 2019:

How tragic that fear and drugs got in the way of this guy’s talent and ultimately led to his demise at such a young age.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on March 13, 2019:

Oh gosh Bill, I can only imagine. I know someone from NY state who turned back when the police suggested they do so, as the roads were already clogged...they too have forever kicked themselves. Another friend stumbled upon it by accident while motorcycling in the US. He is the only person I know who was actually there, and he said it was the craziest, most wonderful thing he has ever been part of.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 13, 2019:

I remember all the talk leading up to Woodstock..."hey,there's this thing going to happen in New York"...."are you going?".....but Mr.Responsible had a job and other "pressing matters," and I've been kicking myself in the butt ever since for not going.