Mississippi John Hurt
|Mississippi John Hurt|
Hurt making a recording for the Library of Congress in 1964.
|Birth name||John Smith Hurt|
July 3, 1893 or March 8, 1892|
Teoc, Carroll County, Mississippi, United States
|Died||November 2, 1966
|Years active||1928, 1963 – 1966|
|Associated acts||Shell Smith
Raised in Avalon, Mississippi, Hurt taught himself how to play the guitar around age nine. Singing to a melodious finger-picked accompaniment, he began to play local dances and parties while working as a sharecropper. He first recorded for Okeh Records in 1928, but these were commercial failures. Hurt then drifted out of the recording scene, and he continued his work as a farmer. Tom Hoskins, a blues enthusiast, would be the first to locate Hurt in 1963. He convinced Hurt to relocate to Washington, D.C., where he was recorded by the Library of Congress in 1964. This rediscovery helped further the American folk music revival, which had led to the rediscovery of many other bluesmen of Hurt's era. Hurt entered the same university and coffeehouse concert circuit as his contemporaries, as well as other Delta blues musicians brought out of retirement. As well as playing concerts, he recorded several studio albums for Vanguard Records.
He died in Grenada, Mississippi. Material recorded by Hurt has been re-released by many record labels over the years (see discography); and his influence has extended over many generations of guitarists. Songs recorded by Hurt have been covered by Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Beck, Doc Watson, John McCutcheon, Taj Mahal, Bruce Cockburn, David Johansen, Bill Morrissey, Gillian Welch, Guthrie Thomas and Rory Block.
Born John Smith Hurt in Teoc, Carroll County, Mississippi and raised in Avalon, Mississippi, he learned to play guitar at age nine. He was completely self-taught, stealthily playing the guitar of a friend of his mother's, who often stayed at the Hurt home while courting a lady who lived near by. His style was not reminiscent of any other style being played at the time; it was the way Hurt "thought the guitar should sound". He spent much of his youth playing old time music for friends and dances, earning a living as a farmhand into the 1920s. His fast, highly syncopated style of playing made his music adept for dancing. On occasion, a medicine show would come through the area; Hurt recalls being wanted by one of them. "One of them wanted me, but I said no because I just never wanted to get away from home." In 1923 he partnered with the fiddle player Willie Narmour as a substitute for his regular partner Shell Smith.
When Narmour got a chance to record for Okeh Records as a prize for winning first place in a 1928 fiddle contest, he recommended Hurt to Okeh Records producer Tommy Rockwell. After auditioning "Monday Morning Blues" at his home, he took part in two recording sessions, in Memphis and New York City (see Discography below). While in Memphis, Hurt recalled seeing "many, many blues singers ... Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, and lots, lots more." Hurt described his first recording session as such:
... a great big hall with only the three of us in it: me, the man [Rockwell], and the engineer. It was really something. I sat on a chair, and they pushed the microphone right up to my mouth and told me that I couldn't move after they had found the right position. I had to keep my head absolutely still. Oh, I was nervous, and my neck was sore for days after.
Hurt attempted further negotiations with Okeh to record again, but after the commercial failure of the resulting records, and Okeh Records going out of business during the Great Depression, Hurt returned to Avalon and obscurity, working as a sharecropper and playing local parties and dances.
After Hurt's renditions of "Frankie" and "Spike Driver Blues" were included in The Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952, and an Australian man discovered a copy of "Avalon Blues", there became increased interest in finding Hurt himself. In 1963, a folk musicologist, Tom Hoskins, supervised by Richard Spottswood, was able to locate Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi using the lyrics of "Avalon Blues":
Avalon, my home town, always on my mind/Avalon, my home town.
While in Avalon, Hoskins convinced an apprehensive Hurt to perform several songs for him, to ensure that he was genuine. Hoskins was convinced, and seeing that Hurt's guitar playing skills were still intact, Hoskins encouraged him to move to Washington, D.C., and begin performing on a wider stage. His performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival saw his star rise amongst the new folk revival audience. Before his death he played extensively in colleges, concert halls, coffee houses and also on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, as well as recording three further albums for Vanguard Records. Much of his repertoire was recorded for the Library of Congress, also. His fans particularly liked the ragtime songs "Salty Dog" and "Candy Man", and the blues ballads "Spike Driver Blues" (a variant of "John Henry") and "Frankie".
Hurt's influence spanned several music genres including blues, spirituals, country, bluegrass, folk and contemporary rock and roll. A soft-spoken man, his nature was reflected in the work, which consisted of a mellow mix of country, blues and old time music.
Hurt incorporated a fast, pick-less, syncopated fingerpicking style that he taught himself. He was influenced by very few people; but did recall an elderly, unrecorded, blues singer from that area, Rufus Hanks, who played twelve-string guitar and harmonica. He also recalled listening to the country singer Jimmie Rodgers. On occasion, Hurt would use an open tuning and a slide, as he did in his arrangement of "The Ballad of Casey Jones". According to music critic Robert Christgau, "the school of John Fahey proceeded from his finger-picking, and while he's not the only quietly conversational singer in the modern folk tradition, no one else has talked the blues with such delicacy or restraint."
There is now a memorial in Avalon, Mississippi for Mississippi John Hurt. It is parallel to RR2, the rural road on which he grew up.
American singer-songwriter Tom Paxton, who met Hurt and played on the same bill as him at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village around 1963, wrote and recorded a song about him in 1977 entitled "Did You Hear John Hurt?" Paxton still frequently plays this song at his live performances.
The first track of John Fahey's 1968 solo acoustic guitar album Requia is entitled "Requiem For John Hurt". Fahey's posthumous live album The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick also features a version of the piece, there entitled "Requiem For Mississippi John Hurt".
78 rpm releases
- "Frankie"/"Nobody's Dirty Business" (Okeh Records, OKeh 8560) (1928)
- "Stack O' Lee"/"Candy Man Blues" (Okeh Records, OKeh 8654) (1928)
- "Blessed Be the Name"/"Praying on the Old Camp Ground" (Okeh Records, OKeh 8666) (1928)
- "Blue Harvest Blues"/"Spike Driver Blues" (Okeh Records, OKeh 8692) (1928)
- "Louis Collins"/"Got the Blues (Can't Be Satisfied)" (Okeh Records, OKeh 8724) (1928)
- "Ain't No Tellin'"/"Avalon Blues" (Okeh Records, OKeh 8759) (1928)
- Folk Songs and Blues [live recordings] (Piedmont Records, PLP 13757) (1963)
- Worried Blues (Piedmont Records, PLP 13161) (1964)
- Today! (Vanguard Records, VSD-79220) (1966)
- The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt (Vanguard Records, VSD-79248) (1967)
- The Best of Mississippi John Hurt [live recordings] (Vanguard Records, VSD-19/20) (1970)
- Last Sessions (Vanguard Records, VSD-79327) (1972)
- Volume One of a Legacy [live recordings] (Piedmont Records, CLPS 1068) (1975)
- Monday Morning Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings – Volume One (Flyright Records, FLYLP 553) (1980)
- Avalon Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings – Volume Two (Heritage Records, HT-301) (1982)
- Satisfied [live recordings] (Quicksilver Intermedia, QS 5007) (1982)
- The Candy Man [live recordings] (Quicksilver Intermedia, QS 5042) (1982)
- Sacred and Secular: The Library of Congress Recordings – Volume Three (Heritage Records, HT-320) (1988)
- Avalon Blues (Flyright Records, FLYCD 06) (1989)
- Memorial Anthology [live recordings] (Genes Records, GCD 9906/7) (1993)
Selected compilation albums
- The Original 1928 Recordings (Spokane Records, SPL 1001) (1971)
- 1928: Stack O' Lee Blues – His First Recordings (Biograph Records, BLP C4) (1972)
- 1928 Sessions (Yazoo Records, L 1065) (1979)
- Satisfying Blues (Collectables Records, VCL 5529) (1995)
- Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings (Columbia Records, CK64986) (1996)
- Rediscovered (Vanguard Records, CD 79519) (1998)
- The Complete Recordings (Vanguard Records, CD 70181-2) (1998)
- Candy Man Blues: The Complete 1928 Sessions (Snapper Music, SBLUECD 010) (2004)
- National Park Service
- Encyclopædia Britannica
- There is confusion about his date of birth, but the grave marker mentions this date.
- "Trail of the Hellhound: Mississippi John Hurt". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2008-05-29.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues - From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 121. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Block, Rory (4 June 2013). "Avalon: A Tribute To Mississippi John Hurt". Stony Plain Records. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
- Cohen, Lawrence. Linear notes to Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings. Columbia/Legacy, CD, 1996
- "Biography by Bruce Eder". Allmusic.com. Retrieved May 30, 2009.
- Dahl, Bill. Linear notes to D.C. Blues: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 1. Fuel 2000 Records, CD, 1998
- Thedeadrcokstarsclub.com - accessed May 2009
- Christgau, Robert (March 11, 1997). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved July 21, 2013.
- "Mississippi John Hurt Discography". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
- Dixon, Robert M.W.; Goodrich, John M.W.; Rye, Howard W. (1997). Blues & Gospel Records 1890–1943 (4th ed.). Clarendon Press. pp. 418–419. ISBN 0-19-816239-1.
- "Mississippi John Hurt Album Discography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
- "Mississippi John Hurt Compilation Album Discography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mississippi John Hurt.|
- Mississippi John Hurt Museum Includes a link to a discussion forum regarding Mississippi John Hurt with substantive participation by grand nephew, Fred Bolden.
- Mississippi John Hurt News Website run by Hurt's grand nephew, Fred Bolden. Has several forums and discussions open to the public.
- Illustrated Mississippi John Hurt discography
- Available recordings at The Internet Archive
- Mississippi John Hurt's Stackolee Recording, sheet music and guitar tab.
- Ratcliffe, Philip R., (2011) Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.