Some songs that are considered “classics” might befuddle you a little. I’m not saying A-Ha’s “Take On Me” is a bad song, or even that I don’t like it — I’m just a little surprised that something that feels so extremely of its time hasn’t been forgotten over nearly two generations. Other songs, however, have a staying power that’s pretty easy to recognize. One of those is “Hard Times Come Again No More,” a popular tune about caring for those around you who are suffering and in poverty, first published in 1854.
“I really think Stephen Foster might have known he was writing a song that would only get better and more meaningful with time,” renowned producer-engineer David R. Ferguson writes of the song. “To write one that’s still loved over 160 years later — it’s only more proof of his true poetic and melodic genius.”
You’ve almost certainly heard recordings that Ferguson has worked on. As he recalled when I spoke with him for a profile in the Scene’s People Issue, he honed his skills as an engineer under Jack “Stack-a-Track” Grochmal at the late Cowboy Jack Clement’s Belmont-area studio Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa. Later, Ferguson worked closely with Johnny Cash (including on the American Recordings album series that Cash worked on almost until his death in 2003) and shared an office and studio space with John Prine. Among many others, he’s produced or co-produced records with Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers and Margo Price.
During the pandemic, Ferguson has been able to put the finishing touches on an album of his own called Nashville No More. You could say he’s been working on it all his life. The songs are ones that have caught his ear during the thousands of sessions he’s participated in over the past 40-plus years. He recruited A-list country and bluegrass players to help him render the tunes in a rich but organic fashion — an overall effect that recalls the records he’s made with the aforementioned laundry list of stars.
Ferguson closes the record with his take on “Hard Times Come Again No More.” Today, we’re very pleased to premiere a video of him performing it live in the studio. He’s joined by mandolin ace Sierra Hull and banjo picker Justin Moses (who also sings harmony), as well as keyboardist Mike Rojas on harmonium and percussionist Pete Abbott on bongos.
“‘Hard Times Come Again No More’ has always been one of my favorite songs, ever since I heard it about 35 years ago for the first time,” Ferguson says. “I think I heard Johnny Cash singing it. … I had very special guests on the recording [on the album] with me — Sierra Hull and Justin Moses, along with [fiddler] Stuart Duncan and a couple of other players. But I was really lucky enough to have Sierra and Justin come over to the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa where we shot this little video and perform it with me.”
Check out the video above, and visit your favorite record store or Fat Possum’s online store to preorder a copy Nashville No More, which is out Friday, Sept. 3. If you preorder the LP from Grimey’s, you can come out on Sept. 1 for a performance and Q&A session with Ferguson and guitar wiz Matt Sweeney. Below, check out the music vid for Ferguson’s Will Oldham-aided rendition of Guy Clark’s “Boats to Build;” Oldham also directed the video. Also take a listen to the audio-only stream of “Knocking Around Nashville.”