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I feel a funny little something easing into my cavity. That's nothin' but cocaine and liquor, to ease the pain, you see - Victoria Spivey & Lonnie Johnson, Toothache Blues

Author Topic: Book on Mississippi John Hurt  (Read 4621 times)

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Offline Delta Dan

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Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« on: March 07, 2006, 12:49:07 PM »
Book ? ?The Life and times of Mississippi John Hurt?.

I have occasionally reported information on a book that I am writing on 'The Life and Times of Mississippi John Hurt', with Mary Frances Hurt, John?s grand-daughter. Neil Harpe is providing illustrations. I figured that those of you who are interested might like to have an update.
 
I have been researching this book for two and a half years. My day job kept getting in the way, so the only sensible thing to do was to give up the day job!  Apart from earning enough to keep wood on the fire and food in our bellies, I am working more or less full time on the book now.  It is a huge piece of work and I had not realised until a recent stock-take how much information I had gathered.
 
As many of you will be aware John Hurt the person was even more remarkable than John Hurt the musician! I feel that it is important to reflect this, so the book has evolved and expanded into something of a social history covering the settlement of African-Americans and their music in Mississippi and the evolution of John?s special brand of music, incorporating elements of work songs, ragtime, spirituals and blues. It will include a consideration of his early musical influences and perhaps equally interestingly, the local music that did not appear to influence him!

I have pieced together many facts and anecdotes about life in the Mississippi hill country around the early part of the last century, and during the twenties to the sixties and have established a huge library on Mississippi history! The book will cover, apart from his music, the issues that occupied John?s life such as his work, family, and friends as well as local and global events eg WW1 (I recently located John?s original draft registration card), and the great Mississippi flood of 1927, a year before he made the trip to Memphis to make those first memorable recordings. The impacts of racism and the story of the civil rights movement influenced much of every day life and this will also feature.

Numerous old friends and family of John?s from around Carroll County, MS have helped me by patiently allowing me to record conversations with them. Similarly many of the people who knew John during the period of his rediscovery between 1963 and 1966, including some involved in the recording of those first Piedmont records, have been so helpful.

The development of my close friendship with Mary Frances Hurt, John?s grand-daughter has been perhaps the greatest privilege of this adventure and Mary has provided valuable information on the Hurt family genealogy and wonderful and touching anecdotes of her childhood in Mississippi.   

Much secondary information has been gathered from transcriptions of interviews with John and from record sleeves, etc. I have also gleaned much material from information posted on this and other forums (especially from john4y). Outfidel is working on a discography that will be included in the book. I will make every effort to fully acknowledge every piece of information, no matter how small. So, if you have important information that you feel should be in this book, and you want a mention, please let me know

I can only provide a short summary here but I hope that it is of some interest. It is a truly amazing story and I feel so privileged to be telling it; and what a journey of discovery!

Delta Dan
7 March 2006

Offline banjochris

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2006, 09:08:48 PM »
I just want to know when I'll be able to read it...
Sounds great!
Chris

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2006, 11:36:21 AM »
I just want to know when I'll be able to read it...
Sounds great!
I'll second that. Who is the publisher?

FWIW here's how Blues Unlimited in their fourth issue (August 1963 p3-4) told us in Britain about the pending release of his 'post-rediscovery' recordings:

MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT
Dick Spottswood
Piedmont Records will soon release the first recordings to have been made by Mississippi John Hurt since 1928. John is sixty-nine years old, in excellent health, and his musical powers remain undiminished. A 12" LP (see footnote) will be available soon. It will contain several old favourites?'Louis Collins, Avalon Blues, Candy Man Blues, Spike Driver Blues', and previously unrecorded selections -'Cow Hooking Blues, Casey Jones, Salty Dog, My Creole Belle, Joe Turner Blues, Richlands Woman Blues.' Also John plays two songs on harmonica?'Liza Jane' and 'God's Unchanging Hand'. Casey Jones features John's magnificent twelve-string guitar.

John Hurt was born in March 1894, in Teoc, Mississippi, in the Carroll County area where he has lived all his life. He began to sing and play the guitar before he was ten (one of his songs, 'My Creole Belle' is in fact the second strain of the old rag classic 'Creole Belles written by J. Bodewalt Lampe in 1900!~. He remembers hearing many local and itinerant musicians, but says his style was developed completely by himself. As he grew up he played for the dance parties and 'shivarees' that are still fundamental entertainment for Negroes in that area,

Previous to his recent trip to Washington D.C., John had only two professional engagements, both of them recording dates for Okeh in 1928, Early that year Okeh recording director Tommy Rockwell came to the area to record two of John's neighbours, Willie F. Narmour and Shell W, Smith, fiddler and guitarist respectively. They had recently won a fiddlers' contest which Rockwell attended. When he signed them up to record, Rockwell asked if there were any other good musicians in the area and John was immediately recommended. John still remembers the cold rainy night when Narmour, Rockwell and an assistant knocked at his door at 2 a.m., woke him out of a sound sleep and asked John to play. Rockwell heard one song, a bit of another and asked John to be in Memphis on Valentine's Day, 1928, to make records (not in San Antonio, as he had previously reported). Eight songs were cut, out of which only two, "Frankie" and "Nobody's Dirty Business" were released. The record did fairly well, and on November 8th,1928, a letter was despatched from New York to Mississippi:

Dear John,

We have been trying to get ahold of you for some time in order that we might make arrangements for you to come to New York for some more recordings.

The first record that you made has sold fairly well, but we did not obtain satisfaction masters on the balance of your recordings.

If it is possible for you to make arrangements to get away from Avalon for a week and come to New York for recording, we will pay you 520.00 per accepted selections and all your expenses to New York and return for this work.

We would like to have you get together about eight selections at least four of them to be old time tunes, similar to selections "Frankie" and "Nobody's Business". There are a great many tunes like theses that are known throughout the South.

We have written to Mr. Hughs Smith, manager of the James K, Polk Inc., 3rd floor of the McCall building, Memphis, Tenn., regarding you and if you will call on him he will buy you a ticket and give you some expense money to come to New York.

Please advise me by wire, collect, when you can leave for New York. l am sure that you will enjoy the trip and we will see that you are well taken care of when you are here. - Very truly yours,

T.G. Rockwell,
Director of Recording. (signed)

John took the train to New York in December 1928. Two sessions on the 21st and 28th of that month produced 12 songs, 10 of which were released. John remembers Lonnie Johnson with great fondness, for it was Lonnie who helped supervise the sessions and showed John around New York. However, the trip ended that period of his recording career, for he was not to record again for thirty-five years. From 1929 to 1939 John tried without success to arrange more dates but Depression financial difficulties of recording companies were against him, and he slipped quietly back into the obscurity from which he had so briefly emerged.

Then in March of this year, collector and field researcher Tom Hoskins discovered tiny Avalon on a state map of Mississippi and, recalling John's singing "Avalon's my home town, always on my mind" on Avalon Blues, went there in high hopes. Without tha small clue it is highly unlikely that John would ever have been found again.

John has held many jobs in his long life?farmhand, levee worker, lumber yards man, dishwasher, railroad worker and other occupations. He has been married for over thirty-five years to soft-spoken Jessie Hurt, by whom he has fourteen children. His brother and son are both excellent guitarists, though John Jnr. tends to be more interested in modern R & B styles. John is now a vigorously healthy man of sixty-nine ,and still a musician of genius. His soft guitar accompaniments flow as softly and smoothly as ever and his voice, though deeper, has lost none of its convincing power. He was, and is, one of the greatest bluesmen of all time.
(Editor's Note: Piedmont Records is a branch of "Music Research Inc." of 2023 N. Woodstock Street, Arlington 7, Virginia, U.S.A., and can be obtained, when ready, from this address, post paid to Europe at $5.98 each. Three L.P.'s are lined up for release in the very near future: Hurt on Piedmont 13157, Ragtime?13158, and Kings of the 12-string guitar on 13159, the latter featuring Willie McTell, CharlieTurner, Barbecue Bob & others. Watch for them.)



Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2006, 11:57:54 AM »
Oh, and I forgot to mention that in the Feb 1964 issue of Jazz Journal there's an interview with MJH by George Kay which had been conducted the previous October, arranged by Spottswood and held in Kay's apartment. From memory it's two or three pages - too long to post here but if this might be of interest to your endeavour contact me via PM.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2006, 12:12:53 PM »
Hi Phil,
It is great to hear that your John Hurt book is so close to completion.  Congratulations!  I will echo Bunker Hill's query:  Have you found a publisher yet?  Best of luck with all this.  I know it has been a tremendous amount of work, though, I'm sure, very rewarding.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2007, 01:03:45 PM »
The tagging system has brought this to light - a year has almost passed, what news on this project? Anybody?

Offline Delta Dan

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2007, 09:59:46 AM »
Hi everyone
Sorry for the long silence. The book is coming along pretty well, but i have unearthed an enormous amount of really valuable primary material during 2006. This is going to make the finished product better than I expected. The down side is that its taking longer than expected. This new material has also posed a few more questions and I am heading off to Mississippi again in about three weeks time to try and fill in these gaps.
But, it is all progressing well and I am more confident than ever that it will be a pretty interesting read (as long as I can do the writing justice!)
Hope this helps
Delta Dan (Phil)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #7 on: January 22, 2007, 11:27:13 AM »
Glad to hear you are still working on it and that it's not destined to me one of the many blues "desk draw manuscripts", as they have begun to be known in certain circles. :)

Offline rjtwangs

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2008, 12:27:47 PM »
Well its been almost 1 year to the day, whats up?? This is sure a book that I'd love to read. Is it still coming along? Any updates would be cool!!

RJ

Offline jostber

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2008, 07:11:06 AM »
I want this book too! This looks great!

Some of his lyrics are here:

http://members.home.nl/zowieso/blues/mississippi%20john%20hurt%20lyrics.html


Offline Parlor Picker

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  • Aloha
Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2008, 01:33:55 AM »


Some of his lyrics are here:

http://members.home.nl/zowieso/blues/mississippi%20john%20hurt%20lyrics.html



And if you search backwards (so to speak) on that website there's loads of lyrics by other blues performers, plus pictures, etc.  A valuable resource.

Heel leuk, jostber.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline rjtwangs

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2008, 08:49:02 AM »
This great for MJH lyrics but what is the webiste? I was not able to access the rest of it...

RJ

Offline Parlor Picker

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  • Aloha
Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2008, 06:38:02 AM »
This great for MJH lyrics but what is the webiste? I was not able to access the rest of it...

RJ

Just go to:
http://members.home.nl/zowieso/blues
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline jostber

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2008, 03:29:00 AM »
Link to the MJH museum:

http://msjohnhurtmuseum.com/


Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2008, 01:03:43 PM »
Hi everyone
Sorry for the long silence. The book is coming along pretty well, but i have unearthed an enormous amount of really valuable primary material during 2006. This is going to make the finished product better than I expected. The down side is that its taking longer than expected. This new material has also posed a few more questions and I am heading off to Mississippi again in about three weeks time to try and fill in these gaps.
But, it is all progressing well and I am more confident than ever that it will be a pretty interesting read (as long as I can do the writing justice!)
Hope this helps
Delta Dan (Phil)
Dare I enquire how this project is progressing?

rsepp

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Re: Book on Mississippi John Hurt
« Reply #15 on: March 06, 2009, 01:13:52 PM »
I just came across his post today. I noticed that this thread is 3 years old tomorrow.
Am I in any position to ask for any updates?
I've already have this book in me budget. ;)

 


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