Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mississippi John Hurt

Chances are that, unless you are seriously into folk music, you have never heard of this absolutely wonderful musician.

When you hear about the rock and roll lifestyle, you often wonder, is this what fame and money does to a man? Excess and childish behavior seem to go hand in hand with the music industry, to the point where nine times out of ten, successful musicians dont even survive their success. The story of John Hurt shows that this does not need to be the case.

John was born down south around 1900, spent most of his life as a farmhand, working brutal jobs for next to no money. As a young man, he recorded a few albums, but the gentle artistry of his playing and singing were not appreciated at the time, when blues was what rock is nowadays; raukus, rowdy, and something to dance to. By contrast, John's style was gentle in every way, his voice being perfectly complemented by his subltle fingerstyle technique. So as one would expect, he quickly faded into obscurity, and instead of becomming a successful musician, he went back down south and continued working on farms most of his life.

Then the 60s folk revival happened.

Suddenly, there was a huge interest in obscure, old music. John's early recordings on Okeh records made him a great name to drop for one to seem "in the know". A folk historian did some research, and found him at the age of 70, weary of a life of back breaking labour, and not having played proffessionally for about 35 years.

Suddenly, John was a star, performing for hundreds of people, and making more money then he could have ever dreamed. Yet somehow he kept a level head, and had nothing but gratitude, not so much for the money and fame, but more that his music was so widely appreciated. He inspired a whole generation of young fingerpickers, and one simply cannot talk about the 60s New York folk scene without mentioning his name.

John Hurt was truely one of the fingerstyle masters. He was of the "never play it the same way twice" persuasion, but his variations were so subtle, it leaves you with the impression of his playing being full of character rather then being impressed with virtuosity. He could do entire songs inside one chord, and have them as full of life and variation as your typical 500 chord jazz song. His style of the blues was also quite unique, all the emotional and musical honesty that you expect from great blues, yet without the edge that usually goes with a Son House or Muddy Waters tune. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a song with some bite to it, but that is hardly a rare and unique thing. This is.

Dave Van Ronk tells a story about John that really sums up the mans incredable character. John Hurt never had a bad word to say about anyone, he was simply the nicest man you could ever meet. There was one time where someone he thought was a friend screwed him out of alot of money, and all of Johns friends were absolutely furious. Dave was pacing and cursing up a blue streak, not only because John was a friend who got shafted, but also because him of all people really didnt diserve it. After going at it for a good ten minutes, he turned to John and asked, "Don't you have anything to say about this guy?". John simply smiled, and said "Well.... if it wasnt for him, I would still be picking cotton down in Mississppi".



The Heathen Hellion said...

Uhm... Just wondering, what's the password on this? Great blog, by the way. You've got some excellent taste.

google_ninja said...

sorry bout that, I had it on the main page, then it disappeared somehow. Its there again now though.

Thanks for the comments, and enjoy the mjh :)

wottalot said...

Excellent blog - John Hurt is quite new to me and sounds interesting. But password doesn't work for me - any suggestions? Thanks.

google_ninja said...

Really sorry, try, the earlier stuff has a trailing "/", the newer stuff doesnt.

Glad you are enjoying the blog, MJH is classic guitar ragtime. Depending on what you are currently into, it may take some work to appreciate, but he is a staple of folk music (real folk, not peter, paul, and mary folk-revival folk)

wottalot said...

Thanks for your interesting reply which encouraged me to listen even more, but the / added to the password doesn't work either! Would you be able to test it from your end? Thanks.

google_ninja said...

like an idiot, I was telling you blogger instead of blogspot in the url. The admin page is blogger, but the url for blogs is blogspot. sorry bout that, I tested it, and it works.

wottalot said...

Many thanks - that worked fine. Wow - having listened to this guy, I can hear the resonsnces, if not downright copying by some of the best of the 60's folk generation. I'm most grateful to you for opening my eyes - or should that be ears?!

Anonymous said...

Hey there, great blog you got here. I too am having password issues with the MJH download ... I followed your comments above and put in the password you wrote but it still didn't work. Any thoughts? Thanks.