Just finished reading a biography on one of my real and true heroes: Mississippi John Hurt.
To be honest, the book wasn’t totally to my liking. A little heavy on things like census reports about the population of Avalon, and a little too much rote speculation on what folks MIGHT have talked about whilst whiling the day away on the porch of the general store. Plus, the constant attempts to link Hurt’s story to the parallel civil rights dramas taking place were at best awkward, at worst totally disruptive, and most of all, unnecessary.
All that said, the book was written with so much obvious love for its subject that it’s hard to be upset. And I will say, I did finally learn the origins of “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” so it wasn’t a total loss, by any means! In fact, it wasn’t a total loss at all, given that since finishing the book, I’ve been basically doing nothing but what the author obviously hoped I’d be doing, which is listening to John Hurt’s music non-stop, and reminding myself all over again just why I fell for it so strongly in the first place …
In reading the book, I also learned a whole lot about the folks who were behind the various “rediscoveries” of still-living country blues singers in the early-to-mid-sixties. Or should I say, I learned a lot about their various court battles over who should get the money generated by the performances and recordings! Not necessarily a pretty part of the story, that bit …
Still again, it’s hard to be upset, given that we likely would never have heard from these remarkable artists again if it hadn’t been for the likes of Tom Hoskins, Dick Waterman, Stefan Grossman, John Fahey, etc. (Waterman comes off as a mixed character in this book, by the way, but I will say, when making arrangements to cover Son House’s “Death Letter” for Demanding To Be Next, SONDICK Music was spot on about granting the right!).
But back to John Hurt’s music. I first learned to play “Sliding Delta” when I was about 16 years old. I say “learned to play,” but I can’t really claim to have learned it properly. I should say I managed to to be able to get through a version of it by the time I was 16 or so. I still don’t play it quite right, really, but having played it about a billion and a half times over the years, I’ve at least got my version down really well! The version I studied so relentlessly was from Hurt’s performance at the Newport Folk Festival. You can find it on this album:
“Sliding Delta” is easily one of my favorite songs of all time. As are “Ain’t Nobody’s Dirty Business,” “Stagolee,” “Got The Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied,” “I Shall Not Be Moved,” “Coffee Blues,” “Richland Women Blues,” and more. The man was incredible. I love his music. I really and truly love his music.
God of Mississippi John Hurt, thank you for giving us Mississippi John Hurt.