The Story of Musician Dan Hartman

All About the Versatile American Pop Artist of the 70s and 80s

Photo of Dan HARTMAN
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Born Daniel Earl Hartman on December 8, 1950, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Dan Hartman went on to become one of the most celebrated and versatile instrumentalists in 1970s and 80s American pop before his untimely death on March 22, 1994.

The American singer-songwriter managed to accomplish a long and prolific career in the music industry, working extensively with one of rock music's most respected pair of siblings — Johnny and Edgar Winter — was the architect of a major '70s classic rock staple, and gifted the '80s with one of the decade's most sparkling singles — "Free Ride."

During his later years, Hartman spent most of his time writing songs for other artists and emerging as a sought-after music producer, but his impact across more than two decades of music artistry remains a legitimate highlight — if not the best well-kept secret — of pop music history.

Early Years and 1970s Contributions

Hartman emerged on the early 1970s rock scene as a bit of a wunderkind, serving as a major contributor to the sound and songcraft of both the Johnny Winter Band and then the Edgar Winter Group. The Winter siblings were both instrumental wizards, but each generally had the need for a jack of all musical trades of Hartman's caliber.

With the latter ensemble, Hartman crafted and sang lead on a '70s rock classic that continued to pay endorphin dividends to music listeners like the often-heard but always exciting "Free Ride.” That key moment served as a definite springboard, but soon the restless Hartman had made his first solo record and emerged as a sought-after collaborator for such disparate artists as Muddy Waters during the late '70s.

Around that time, Hartman also made his mark on the burgeoning disco music scene, contributing two key tracks — "Instant Replay" and "Relight My Fire" — to that particular pantheon.

Hitting His Peak in the 1980s

During the early 1980s, Hartman began to move into the signature phase of his solo career wherein he would produce four solo records over the next 10 years, most of which were geared toward a distinctive smooth pop sound more indicative of his first album — 1975's "Images" — than his later disco-driven work that garnered particular notoriety.

This didn't translate into immediate massive success, as 1981's "It Hurts to Be in Love" was a commercial failure. However, it did set the stage for Hartman's quintessential '80s moment in the sun, 1984's "I Can Dream About You" LP and — more specifically — the near-perfect pop single of the same name that justifiably became a worldwide Top 10 smash.

That song encapsulated the best of Hartman as a solo artist — unabashed romanticism tempered by a nimble pop sensibility and devotion to craftsmanship that would go on to inspire musicians for generations to come.

Later Years and Early Death

Unfortunately, this signature moment did not translate into the artistic freedom and solo artist gravitas Hartman aspired to. Seeking to deepen his own artistic evolution, 1986's "White Boy" seemed to his record company to be an overly radical shift, and the music never saw the contemporary light of day. Hartman followed with 1989's "New Green Clear Blue," but by then most of his musical interest had turned to production and behind-the-scenes songwriting.

Sadly, by the early '90s, Hartman had contracted HIV, a fact he kept secret from almost everyone until his 1994 death related to complications from a brain tumor.

Though restrained somewhat by a music business not fully content to let him fully explore his own astonishing versatility, Hartman nevertheless remains a relatively unsung but important pop and rock figure of both the 1970s and 1980s.