John Smith Hurt, better known as Mississippi John Hurt

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John Smith Hurt, better known as Mississippi John Hurt (July 3, 1893 or March 8, 1892 — November 2,

1966) was an influential country blues singer and guitarist. Raised in the tiny Avalon, Mississippi, Hurt

taught himself how to play the guitar around age nine. Singing in a loud whisper, 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, and Hurt drifted out of the

recording scene, where he continued his work as a farmer. After a man discovered a copy of one of his

recordings, "Avalon Blues", which gave the location of his hometown, there became increased interest in

his whereabouts. 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 archaic bluesman. Hurt entered the same university and coffeehouse concert circuit as his

contemporaries, as well as other Delta blues musicians brought out of retirement, including Skip James

and Son House. As well as playing concerts, he recorded several studio albums for Vanguard Records. He

died in November of 1966 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,

John McCutcheon, Taj Mahal, and Bruce Cockburn.


Born John Smith Hurt in Teoc, Carroll County, Mississippi and raised in Avalon, Mississippi, Hurt learned

to play guitar at age 9. He was completely self-taught, using his mother's boyfriend's guitar to teach

himself whenever he stayed over at her house. 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 farm hand 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, Narmour recommended John

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



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 1964 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 with Johnny Carson, as well as recording three further albums for

Vanguard Records. Much of his repertoire was recorded for the Library of Congress, also. The numbers his devotees particularly liked were 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, 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 died in November 1966 from a heart attack in Grenada, Mississippi.

Hurt incorporated a fast, pick-less, syncopated fingerpicking style that he taught himself. He was influenced by very few people; but does recall an

elderly, unrecorded, blues singer from that area, Rufus Hanks, who played twelve-string guitar and harmonica. He also recalls listening to the

country singer Jimmie Rodgers. Many of his songs were in very basic keys (C, G, D, F, etc., including sevenths and other non-inclusive notes), his

fingers picking notes within the chords. On occasion, Hurt would use an open tuning and a slide (as he did in his arrangement of "The Ballad of

Casey Jones").

There is now a memorial in Avalon, Mississippi for Mississippi John Hurt. It is parallel to RR2, which is 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".

Renowned British Folk/Blues artist Wizz Jones (Raymond Ronald Jones), recorded a tribute song called "Mississippi John" for his 1977 album Magical Flight.

Mississippi John Hurt - You Got To Walk That Lonesome Valley

I know there are other versions of this video on youtube.. but I think this is the best version. Enjoy, John Hurt is a legend.


The Forum post is edited by bninna Aug 12 '15
This topic is sticky


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