Mississippi John Hurt – Pay Day

 

In keeping with many masters of delta blues, Mississippi John Hurt did not receive much recognition until later in his life, though he is revered as a master of the style to this day. Pay Day comes off his 1966 Vanguard release Today!, released the same year (1996) as Skip James Today!. Like Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt was a self-taught fingerpicker from (you guessed it) Mississippi whose recordings for Okeh records in 1928 met with little success. His music career seemingly over before it started, he spent the next forty years sharecropping and playing local shows and bars and dance halls. Inclusion on the Smithsonian’s Anthology of American Folk Music revived interest in his work and the man himself, who was located in part because one of his few early singles contained lyrics suggesting his hometown was Avalon, MS.

Riding a renewed wave of interest in American roots music throughout the 1960s, Hurt recorded a number of albums first for the Smithsonian and then for Vanguard, Piedmont, and Gryphon. John Fahey memorialized him in the first track from his Requia release, Requiem for John Hurt, which was released following Hurt’s death in 1966. You can see Hurt perform Lonesome Valley here on an episode from Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest, a short lived television show hosted by Seeger devoted to folk music. For more info on Hurt’s life and music career, check out this website run by his nephew.

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Skip James – Drunken Spree

This version of “Drunken Spree” comes off Skip James’ 1966 release Skip James Today! The exclamation mark was in order, because it came thirty years after his first and (up until then) only recordings were met with mild response in 1931. It’s likely that the tough economic times played a role, though perhaps his idiosyncratic tuning and playing style were not particularly popular at the time. The lack of success had relegated him to obscurity, though his fingerpicking technique and somber songwriting style endeared him to blues enthusiasts like John Fahey. He was rediscovered during a spell in the hospital, and was thrust into the role of elder statesman for the folk/blues revival that kicked off in the early 1960, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival. You can see some rare footage of him performing at Newport here. Though you may not recognize his name, you might have heard the song “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” which he recorded in 1931 and which later appeared as on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack as covered by Chris Thomas King. Capitalizing on this renewed interest, he recorded a flurry of material in the early sixties, much of which has not been released or is scattered on various compilations. You can see a more complete listing of his output over at Discogs. He died in Philadelphia in 1969 at the age of 67.