Sunday, December 03, 2006

Mississippi John Hurt - "Avalon's my home town"

With his melodic fingerpicking style and gentle, expressive voice, John Hurt was not the typical Mississippi bluesman.

John Smith Hurt was born in Carroll County, Mississippi on March 8, 1892. He left school after the fourth grade to work as a farmhand. His mother bought him a second hand guitar for $1.50 when he was nine and he began teaching himself to play. His hometown of Avalon, Mississippi was nothing more than a collection of makeshift shacks, isolated from the outside world except for the Illinois Central Railroad tracks that ran nearby.

After his father’s death, John Hurt helped his mother raise corn, cotton and potatoes. His mother took in laundry and John hired himself out to neighboring farms. John was also playing his guitar at local events for spending money. Sometime around 1923 a white fiddler by the name of Willie Narmour (Carroll County Blues) hired Hurt to sit in for his regular partner. A few years later Narmour won a fiddle contest where the prize was a recording session with Okeh Records. When the record producer showed up he asked if there might be any other local talent. Narmour took him to Hurt’s shack. The encounter led to several recording sessions and brief success. The “Mississippi” moniker was added to John’s records as a sales gimmick.

As the Depression was taking its toll on the recording industry, John Hurt returned to his home in Avalon to help his mother with the farm. Thirty years later, with the renewed interest in early folk music, Folkways Records re-released several of John’s songs on its American Folk Music series. John Hurt was gathering a whole new following of fans, and he didn’t know it. No one knew who Mississippi John Hurt was or if he was still alive.

In 1963 record collector, Tom Hoskins, heard John Hurt’s song “Avalon Blues” and made the connection.
"Avalon my home town, always on my mind,
Avalon my home town, always on my mind,
Pretty mama's in Avalon, want me there all the time"

After three decades John Hurt was “rediscovered”. He began recording and playing festivals, including the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. He enjoyed his second chance at fame for three years before his death November 2, 1966 in Grenada, Mississippi.

Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues.mp3

Mississippi John Hurt - Nobody's Dirty Business.mp3


Anonymous Lucy said...

I like 'em.

December 04, 2006 8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea what she said

December 04, 2006 8:39 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I ran into John Hurt in a pile of dusty old records about a decade ago. I gathered he had a second hay-day during the hippy-dippy days. Thanks for filling in the holes in my knowledge about the guy. Too bad his late fame was so fleeting. Sort of gives a man hope Britney Spears will have a second hay-day too.

December 04, 2006 11:04 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Britney who?

December 05, 2006 11:45 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Always great to have some John Hurt.... Doc Watson was "discovered" by the early 60s folk scene at the same time and I believe they used to gig together. When I've seen Doc, he does some of Hurt's tunes and speaks of him with great affection. Wrote a song about him too.... thanks Ed!

December 06, 2006 3:41 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hi Greg,
You are right; John Hurt did the folk festival circuit at the same time as Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley. I believe they had a mutual respect for each other.

December 06, 2006 8:59 PM  

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