Archive for the ‘John Hurt’ Category

The Blues House (pt.2)

November 7, 2014


In the early 1960s an unlikely audience latched on to the blues of the Depression era: college students and record collectors from New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Berkeley. “The blues mafia,” as they liked to call themselves, studied rare 78s, so rare that sometimes, as in the case of Skip James’s “Drunken Spree,” there was only one known copy of a record. And a few thought about driving south to locate the men whose voices they heard coming from their turntable. But where to start? There were no biographies, no press releases to consult or Wikipedia page. The songs were all they had.

In 1963, Tom Hoskins, a member of the so-called blues mafia, drove to a general store and post office in the southeast corner of the Mississippi Delta. On old maps this spot was labeled “Avalon,” and more than three decades before, Mississippi John Hurt, a figure revered by the blues mafia, had recorded a song called “Avalon Blues.” At the store Hoskins got directions to Hurt’s house. Hearing that he was from Washington, D.C., Hurt initially believed Hoskins was a revenue collector. Finally, Hoskins was able to convince Hurt of his true purpose, and was also able to convince him to come north and begin recording again. A few months later, Hurt, who had not made a recording since the 1920s, was appearing on the Johnny Carson Show and at the Newport Folk Festival.

That same year, a guitarist named John Fahey sent a letter to

Booker White (old blues singer)
c/o General Delivery
Aberdeen, MS

“I’m sitting down in Aberdeen, with New Orleans on my mind,” sang White in his 1940 song “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues.” When the letter was forwarded to him, White, who was now living in Memphis, replied to Fahey, and the following year Fahey decided to track down the most elusive bluesman of all, Skip James. In June of 1964 he left Berkeley with Bill Barth and Henry Vestine, friends and fellow guitarists. (more…)


Dock Boggs and John Hurt

July 18, 2012

On Dec. 13, 1963, The Friends of Old Time Music in NYC presented Dock Boggs and John Hurt in concert at NYU.  These notes are by Peter Siegel, from Smithsonian Folkways CD SFW40160

The concert by Dock Boggs and John Hurt was an extraordinary event. Mike Seeger, who had recently rediscovered Dock Boggs in Norton Virginia, hosted the show and accompanied Dock gracefully on guitar. The evening highlighted some striking parallels and contrasts in the careers of Boggs and Hurt.

Each had visited New York once before, Boggs to record for Brunswick in 1927, Hurt to record for Okeh in 1928. Each was back in New York for the first time in over three decades. Hurt was a Black musician influ- enced by White country artists such as Jimmie Rodg- ers. Boggs was a White musician influenced by blues artists.  At the F.O.T.M. concert, Dock mentioned Sara Martin as the source of his “Mistreated Mama Blues.”

Decades earlier, both men had been contacted by W. E. Myer, a Richlands, Virginia, businessman and song- writer who sent song poems to each. Myer eventually signed Dock Boggs to his Lonesome Ace label, for which Boggs set to music and recorded several of Myer’s po- ems. His modal-sounding recording of Myer’s “Old Rub Alcohol Blues” includes the stanzas:

“Have never worked for pleasure Peace on earth I cannot find The only thing I surely own Is a worried and troubled mind…
When my worldly trials are over And my last goodbye I’ve said Bury me near my darling’s doorstep where the roses bloom and fade.”

At the F.O.T.M. concert, John Hurt performed Myer’s lyrics for “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me,” which he had set to the melody of the Jimmie Rodgers song “Waiting for a Train”:

“I do not work for pleasure Earthly peace I cannot find The only thing I can call my won Is a troubled and worried mind
When my earthly race is over Cast my body out in the sea Save all the undertaker’s bills Let the mermaids flirt with me.”



Dock Boggs and John Hurt collaborated on one piece for their New York audience: the evening’s final tune, “Banjo Clog,” featured banjo by Boggs and clog dancing by Hurt. The two then parted ways and pursued their new recording and performing careers.

John Hurt and Willie Narmour

April 3, 2012


Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues, by Philip R. Ratcliffe
(University Press of Mississippi, 2011), 272 pages