Monday, September 04, 2006

Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi John Hurt was born March 8, 1892 in Carroll County, Mississippi. He was discovered, perhaps plucking away on the front stoop of the Valley Store in Carrol County, by Tommy Rockwell for the Okeh label who sent him to Memphis to Record in 1928. That record sold enough to earn him a trip to New York City for more. His career appeared to be taking off at that point, but the depression settled in and sent him home.

He returned to Mississippi, and stayed for 35 years where he herded cows and plucked away perhaps only to them and the passerbies at the Valley Store.

In 1963 two 'folkies' Tom Hoskins and Mike Stewart, got a hold of a tape from a record collector. On it was a recording of MJ Hurt's "Avalon Blues" which had been recorded in 1928. In the the song John sang "Avalon's my home town, always on my mind...".

Hoskins and Stewart did the math, realized the man singing on the recording could still be alive, and took out a map. Unfortunately there was no town of "Avalon" listed in Mississippi. Avalon as it happened, still did exist, in the form of a store owned by a family called the Stinsons. When they drove up, there were some men hanging out on the store's front porch. Hoskins asked them if they'd ever heard of Mississippi John Hurt? One of the men said he could be found "a mile down that road, third mailbox up the hill. Can't miss it."

Down the road they went and turned in at the mailbox. As they got out of the car, a tractor came into view, a little man riding it. "Can I help you?" he asked in a soft voice. "John Hurt?" they asked, "Yes" he answered. And at that moment, the rediscovery of a legend had occured, 35 years after his original recordings and at the age of 71.

Hurt was brought up to Washington where he recorded a couple albums worth of material. And when the media caught wind of the miraculous rediscovery, Hurt was immediately booked for the Newport Folk Festival of 1963, where his comeback was an instant success.

John Hurt's success, although sweet, turned out to be relatively short. He died in his home town of Avalon on Nov 2nd 1966. MP3: Frankie


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