Monday, February 6, 2012

Poor Boy Long Way From Home #10 – Mississippi John Hurt

A happy Monday to you—still morning out here on the Left Coast, so here comes another edition of the Monday Morning Blues.

Today we have our monthly installment in the ongoing Poor Boy Blues series—a post that almost didn’t happen, because the video I initially intended to post was taken down by YouTube due to copyright infringement claims. Someone recently re-posted a version of Mississippi John Hurt’s version of “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home” however, so—at least for the time being—it’s looking like the complete set of 12 I’d planned on posting may remain intact.

Mississippi John Hurt has long been a favorite of mine.  His precise, melodic & almost delicate style of playing is beautiful & distinctive, as is his rich, if subdued, voice, which can express tenderness & a sort of gentle humor in a way that few blues players can.  Hurt’s playing style is akin to the “Piedmont” style of fingerpicking usually associated with guitarists who lived along the U.S. southeastern seaboard in the Carolinas or Virginia. But Hurt lived in Avalon, Mississippi, which he famously sung about in “Avalon Blues”—thus, spent most of his life in the Mississippi Delta area, which is generally associated with a much “heavier” blues sound—one dripping with bottleneck slide, & made dark by lots of flatted thirds, fifths & sevenths in both the melodies & the accompaniment—even more so by the fact that a fair amount of the singing & slide playing involves microtones—notes slightly flat or sharp of a recognized tone. Hurt on the other hand, was never afraid of pure major triads & a light, melodic sound.

I’ve written elsewhere about Hurt’s “discovery” by musicologist Tom Hoskins, who was intrigued by Hurt’s songs on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (“Frankie” & “Spike Driver Blues”), as well as by other songs he’d recorded in the 20s that were still available to collectors on 78s.  As a result, Hurt had a short but successful second career as a full-time professional musician during the folk revival until his death in 1966. Although he’d made 13 sides for Okeh back in the 1920s, he’d spent most of his life as a sharecropper who made music in his community for dances & parties. 

Hurt’s version of “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home” is very typical of his style—there’s not the raw existential angst of Ramblin’ Thomas or Booker White; all in all, it bears a closer relationship to the Brownie McGhee version we heard last month, tho Hurt’s lyrics are different, & his playing & singing are—as always!—entirely his own & immediately recognizable.
Today's recording is from his album Last Recordings, made during the 1960s & issued posthumously in 1972.

Hope you enjoy this wonderful piece of music.


  1. It truly is wonderful that we have access to music from the 19th Century and that we can share it with a few clicks of the mouse.

    Thanks for this; it was like a lazy summer afternoon.

  2. Hi Kat: Yes, it is marvelous how much material is out there for our enjoyment! A good description of Mississippi John Hurt's music, too.


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