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The Mudcat Cafesj


Mississippi John Hurt was born March 8, 1892 in Carroll County, Mississippi. There is dispute over exactly where he was born, but the most likely spot is Avalon, near Greenwood. Hurt’s interest in music started early. When he was just nine, his mother bought him a Black Anne guitar for $1.50, and in a short time, he had taught himself to play. Because of the remote location of Avalon, Mississippi John was never exposed to the wandering bluesmen who traveled the Delta. This enabled him to develop his own guitar style, unencumbered by popular influence. "I taught myself to play the guitar the way I thought the guitar should sound." He learned as many songs as he could from the field hands and other worker, playing primarily for personal enjoyment, but sometimes for local dances and celebrations. He was paid very little for these engagements. Hurt earned his meagre living working odd jobs; he worked as a field hand, as a laborer picking cotton or corn, or working cattle. He spent some time traveling the River, worked as a railroad hand, and, at one time, appeared on the WPA payroll.

John Hurt was discovered in his late thirties, perhaps plucking away on the front stoop of the Valley Store in Carroll County. Tommy Rockwell sent him to Memphis to record in 1928 for the Okeh label. He was paid $240 plus expenses, and made eight recordings. That one session sold enough records to earn him a trip to New York City for more. His career seemed to be taking off at that point, but the Depression settled in, sending him home. People simply forgot about him.

He returned to Mississippi, and stayed for 35 years where he herded cows and plucked away, perhaps only to them and the passerbys at the Valley Store. It may have been this isolation from the modern blues world that allowed his music to continue to remain true to the pure Delta Blues sound. Unfortunately, it was also this isolation that prevented the folklorists from finding him again. They certainly tried, but to no avail, simply assuming that he had died.

One lone blues collector from D.C. heard the song "Avalon Blues", and put two and two together. Hurt was rediscovered by Tom Hoskins in 1963 back down in Carroll County. Hoskins convinced Hurt to come with him to D.C. In just a short time, Mississippi John had achieved national recognition. He had a few recording sessions, and played a good number of festivals, including the now famous Newport Folk Festival in 1964, at age 72. He had three years of additional fame before his death on November 2, 1966 in Grenada, Mississippi.