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Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues

Philip R. Ratcliffe
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Mississippi John Hurt
    Book Description:

    When Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966) was "rediscovered" by blues revivalists in 1963, his musicianship and recordings transformed popular notions of prewar country blues. At seventy-one he moved to Washington, D.C., from Avalon, Mississippi, and became a live-wire connection to a powerful, authentic past. His intricate and lively style made him the most sought after musician among the many talents the revival brought to light.

    Mississippi John Hurtprovides this legendary creator's life story for the first time. Biographer Philip Ratcliffe traces Hurt's roots to the moment his mother Mary Jane McCain and his father Isom Hurt were freed from slavery. Anecdotes from Hurt's childhood and teenage years include the destiny-making moment when his mother purchased his first guitar for $1.50 when he was only nine years old. Stories from his neighbors and friends, from both of his wives, and from his extended family round out the community picture of Avalon. U.S. census records, Hurt's first marriage record in 1916, images of his first autographed LP record, and excerpts from personal letters written in his own hand provide treasures for fans. Ratcliffe details Hurt's musical influences and the origins of his style and repertoire. The author also relates numerous stories from the time of his success, drawing on published sources and many hours of interviews with people who knew Hurt well, including the late Jerry Ricks, Pat Sky, Stefan Grossman and Max Ochs, Dick Spottswood, and the late Mike Stewart. In addition, some of the last photographs taken of the legendary musician are featured for the first time inMississippi John Hurt.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-009-3
    Subjects: Music, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. VII-XII)
    Mary Frances Hurt Wright

    This book confirms what I have known and have come to accept and appreciate for most of my life: that my Daddy John¹ had a supernatural spirit that had a far greater effect on people than his music alone. I did not arrive at this personal and profound revelation based on the numerous musicians that have been inspired by him. Frankly, it was not his music, but his strong mythical spirit that has had such a resounding affect on my life!

    Daddy John had many wonderful qualities that I admired and longed to mimic. His ability to speak loud without...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. XIII-2)

    I was born close to Liverpool, England, in 1943. Much of the time surrounding a limited secondary education in the 1950s was swallowed up by an interest verging on obsession with New Orleans jazz and folk blues; or at least in the limited British interpretations of that music that were available in the 1950s industrial north of England. Before rock ’n’ roll, swing bands and crooners dominated the charts; and apart from old records of Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, etc., I was enjoying the traditional jazz of Chris Barber’s band. Barber’s banjoist, Lonnie Donegan, was...

  5. 1. The Early Years: From Slavery to Freedom
    (pp. 3-66)

    Outside of rural Mississippi, only a small group of music aficionados had heard of Mississippi John Hurt until after he turned seventy-one years old. This knowledge was confined to the music on six 78 rpm records made in 1928. When he was rediscovered in rural Mississippi in 1963, no one knew much about him or what he had been doing since 1928, and not many cared. His early records had made him an icon, but the story of the man himself would turn out to be even more deserving of such a reputation. Mississippi John Hurt emerged from rural Mississippi...

  6. 2. The Middle Years, 1929–1962: Return to Avalon and the Depression
    (pp. 67-119)

    Mississippi John Hurt returned from New York to Avalon to await further developments in his new career as a musician. He had more money in his pocket than he had seen for a long time and must have been full of hope. But he had a long wait for the fame he was due. He was to achieve recognition and fame but he was going to have to wait thirty-four years for it. As for fortune, that was never to be.

    Although there is no advertising or sales information available relating to the five records released from the New York...

  7. 3. Rediscovery and Sweet Success
    (pp. 120-173)

    As 1962 came to an end, John Hurt probably anticipated a new year much like the last one and much like those of the three or so decades before. He was 70 years old, looking after Perkins’s cattle, and keeping a few hogs and chickens to help sustain his wife Jessie and grandchildren Ella Mae and Andrew Lee. Jessie helped out in the Perkins’s house. They were poor but appeared contented. Meanwhile, the world outside Avalon was jumping.

    The civil rights movement was gathering strength. Young whites from the North and East were taking a personal interest in the status...

  8. 4. Management Problems and the Death of Mississippi John Hurt
    (pp. 174-203)

    In spite of John’s increasing popularity and success, there was unrest at Music Research Inc. (MRI). It appears that the Spottswoods were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Tom Hoskins’s management approach and arguments were occurring over the release of the second Piedmont album,Worried Blues.

    The MRI share allocation was Dick Spottswood 50 shares, Tom Hoskins 50 shares and ED Denson 25 shares. Dick Spottswood was president and Louisa Spottswood was non-shareholding secretary of the company. At a meeting of the shareholders on August 17, 1964, ED Denson joined the other two as a director of the company.¹ Soon after this...

  9. 5. The Legacies of Mississippi John Hurt
    (pp. 204-240)

    Jessie had loved John deeply and they had rarely been apart. Now she found herself left with young Ella Mae and Andrew in Grenada. Without a will, what was left of the $2,542.18 in John’s account at the Grenada Bank, once funeral costs had been paid, was to go to Jessie and Man.¹ What could be more straightforward? The judgment was based on the facts known to the court and provided to them by Jessie and her advisors, which included Tom Hoskins. But it was anything but straightforward, and more than twenty-five years later, this judgment was to be challenged...

  10. Appendix I. Interviews, Correspondence, and Personal Communications
    (pp. 241-242)
  11. Appendix II. Contract between Music Research Incorporated and Mississippi John Hurt, 1963
    (pp. 243-247)
  12. Appendix III. Vanguard Contract, July 11, 1963
    (pp. 248-249)
  13. Appendix IV. Mississippi John Hurt Discography
    (pp. 250-263)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 264-292)
  15. Index
    (pp. 293-308)