John Smith Hurt: An Interview and the Mississippi John Hurt Blues Foundation
October 4, 2006 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Here is the Mississippi John Hurt Blues Foundation, the website, which is the creation of one Frank Delaney of Spokane. There's a great deal of guitar related material and a page of mp3's by fans, which includes several interesting originals by one Fred Bolden, a grand nephew. I always knew he had a son who played guitar and wondered why no one had ever tried to record him. Now there is a grand nephew playing, if nowhere near as sublimely as his great uncle, in roughly the same style.

Here is an interview of John Hurt from 1963, courtesy of Stefan Grossman's guitar video empire. It is a real delight.

Consider this a follow up to this post. Not all of the links there are good. The Mississippi John Hurt Guitar Tab Book, for instance, is now available only in PDF format but well worth the download. And here is an illustrated discography of John Hurt by another Stefan, Stefan Wirz, a subject of yet another post back in the day.
posted by y2karl (19 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
...Well he was goin' off to the right down that, down through them woods, little fast leg, goin through the woods, goin home one night. Wolf attacked him there, that wolf got runnin' by snappin' at him, you know. The first thing he thought of was climbin' a tree. And he went up that tree, a wolf can't climb a tree. He went up that tree that old wolf he look up at him around the tree, scratchin'. Then he thought about his harp, funny thing, he got that harp and started blowin' that harp and commenced blowin' that harp. God almighty, man he got away from that tree, down through the woods, got away from that tree and all the way home. Somethin', me and him were together one night walkin' along home, a small path, I had an old guitar, so after I learned to play guitar, awful young, you know. He tryin' to learn to play the guitar too. We go along to people's private homes, way in the night, midnight, twelve, one o'clock. Serenadin' we call, just like we knew you well, you know, we tip up on the porch and we'd wake you up with music. Yeah, we kept in music. Well, you might lay there and listen, you might not get up and ask us in but say you lay there and listen if you like and we'd quit. We wouldn't mind hearin' when we walked off hearin', Yeah Good boys yeah good come back again, see? Then you'd get up, sometimes you'd get up and say come on in. So we were serenadin one night right about one thirty, we walkin' along one of them little roads, a little path, moon was shinin' bright. Somethin' attacked us, didn't know what it was, I was walkin along behind, the path so small you couldn't walk side by side. I was behind him, I walkin along with my head down, I was a little pace behind. He had seen this thing and he had stopped. I bumped into him, I thought oh boy. He said, What is that John? What's that there, he standin there. Well, I tell you what it looked like to me, I don't know what it was, it look liked a panther to me, I don't know what it was.

A what?

A panther.

A panther?

That's what it looked like to me. We standin' there talkin' to one another and he says, Give me your guitar. Just like that. I hand him my guitar and he just walkin along goin "Rmmmm Rmmmm." He didn't run, he just got out of the path and let him by and was just slidin' around you know, like this you know, kinda lookin' like sidin up gettin behind us. And he was lookin', still rappin' on the guitar, you know. I was watchin' him, he was slidin' around to get behind us. God almighty, I jumped in front of him and I lit out man. I went runnin' you know, he takin' off right behind. Oh I was runnin' and he fell, he fell, and bout him, he fell. Of course, I don't know, I thought the thing had him, whatever it was. I couldn't stop I had to keep goin. That's the funny part about it, anybody prayin' and cursin' too. He was yellin' and kickin' Lord almighty. Goddamn off. I thought he got him. He was cursin' and prayin' all the way. Oh Lordy, Oh, Goddamn, yeah. I swear I got way up on top of the hill. He got over his scare I reckon. When he got up he says he didn't see nothin. He's rappin' on the old guitar, when we got inside, I saw him lookin back. I say, Hey, his name was John, John T. I say, John T. that thing get a hold of you? He says, Devil, what do you want to know about it, you run off. I says man, I couldn't come back out. He says, Why didn't you come back and shoot, you heard me holler.' I says, Oh boy, I turned around, I thought, I'm goin' in while he's eatin' you. Well, I had oh some, I don't know what kind of times in my lifetime...
posted by y2karl at 9:12 PM on October 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify in case there is any confusion in the first sentence in your post, the foundation was started by Hurt's granddaughter Mary Frances Hurt Wright in 1999. Frank Delaney of Spokane is the designer of the web site.
posted by robliberal at 9:17 PM on October 4, 2006

A fact very obvious to anyone who hovered their cursor over the first link and read the first sentence in the title tag.
posted by y2karl at 9:35 PM on October 4, 2006

That is a well done tab pdf!! Are there a lot on the net? I've never looked.
posted by pwedza at 9:42 PM on October 4, 2006

Well, there's even more John Hurt tabs at the Foundation link, albeit with a tab program you have to download to read. But I did--'cause they had one of Beulah Land. And in answer to your general question: Oh, god, yes--or so I should think.
posted by y2karl at 9:48 PM on October 4, 2006

One of my favorite CD purchases was Avalon Blues. This is a cd that compiles all the early 78 recordings of Mississippi John Hurt.

My favorite song has always been "Nobody's Dirty Business." There's something about the way he sings this song and plays this amazingly relaxed yet frantically paced guitar music and sings, "Some of these mornings gonna wake up boozy, gonna grab my gun and kill ol' Suzie" that always chills me.

This is cool. Lot's to explore.
posted by jefbla at 9:49 PM on October 4, 2006

y2karl, I've been away from MeFi for a couple years, and your music and culture posts are one of the things I missed. I'm going to have fun poking around in this.
posted by hippugeek at 10:10 PM on October 4, 2006

I found that this
...I am also extremely disturbed to learn that of all the monies being created by the worldwide sale of Mississippi John Hurt records, cd’s, dvd’s, photographs and videos today – none of these monies are going to his legitimate heirs, and specifically none to the Mississippi John Hurt Foundation
--from the Researching the Music of Mississippi John Hurt page--quite curious. There was a struggle over the estate of Robert Johnson but while Johnson was the quintessential womanizing, hoboing bluesman, John Hurt went back home after recording his sides for Okeh, married, raised a family and never left the vicinity of Avalon again until his rediscovery in 1963. It's quite intriguing. Is it simply a case of the usual record company venality or is there a family feud in the background ?
posted by y2karl at 10:22 PM on October 4, 2006

posted by The White Hat at 10:43 PM on October 4, 2006

Thanks, y2k, was blown away by MJH's YouTube in your original post. When the adamant ghost of Blind Willie Johnson returns, I rescue his bronchitic corpse from the soaken newspapers in his burned-out hovel, and, re-animated, he walks Jimmy Page through "Nobody's Fault But Mine."
posted by toma at 3:56 AM on October 5, 2006

Second tab book link is offline. Thank you so so so much for this post, I love Mississippi John Hurt more than I can say.
posted by CRM114 at 6:00 AM on October 5, 2006

hippugeek! You're back!

*blows kiss*

Oh, and another great post, y2karl!
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on October 5, 2006

Nice post. I've been reading, intermittently, Chasing that Devil Music by Gayle Dean Wardlow, so this kind of thing has been on my mind. More on my mind, though, is whether this new Folkways boxset, which contains some MJH cuts, is any good.
posted by OmieWise at 8:19 AM on October 5, 2006

Wow! Another outstanding post from y2karl! /unabashed MJH fan
posted by Lynsey at 9:07 AM on October 5, 2006

Ha! Good to see you too, languagehat. Gracious but I have a lot of your blog to catch up on...hrm.

ahem, back to posting on topic I go

Oh, I do love the great network of the blues. Soon's you poke your head in you see how much farther back it all goes than you knew. So now I know that the Gillian Welch song "Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor" (2003) is based on an old standard called "Pallet on the Floor" done by everyone from Hurt to Doc Watson, and that there was a film of the same name in 1984, and a poem by one Sam Elmore, and... infinity. Delightful.

(I'm particularly enamored today of the fantastic title "Jesus Is A Dying-Bed Maker.")
posted by hippugeek at 9:51 AM on October 5, 2006

jeffbla -- Y'know, I got that Avalon Blues CD of Hurt's early 78s, and expected to be blown away. But the fact is, I think his later playing of the same material on those 1960s Vanguard LPs and the Newport Folk Festival albums is actually better. Not "better" in the sense of more technically proficient. But more sensitive in every sense of the word.
posted by Faze at 11:31 AM on October 5, 2006

That's more related to the technology of the recordings themselves and that crystalline bright and intimate sound of Vanguard folk recordings of the sixties, which owed much to the sound of their classical recordings, methinks. His singing on those 78s certainly does not suffer in comparison to his later efforts. The early Frankie and Albert outranks any later version, either sung or played. He is hot on that one. I suspect that were the early John Hurt recorded on comparable equipment with a comparable mix, he would sound entirely different. But there is for sure that nuance that comes from having played the same damn thing for forty years.

Skip James, on the other hand, definitely was a more interesting singer and guitarist in his later career. But again, we would most likely be blown away by the difference, could we hear the then Skip James recorded with the equivalent of that modern Vanguard sound.
posted by y2karl at 2:29 PM on October 5, 2006

y2k, this is a great post thank you, especially for the tab books.

As great and inspiring as this post is, there is some comedy to be found as well. (mp3, really funny voice for the song!)
posted by snsranch at 6:03 PM on October 5, 2006

Great post.
posted by the cuban at 2:17 AM on October 6, 2006

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