Mississippi John Hurt

Mississippi John Hurt’s first appearance in the north occurred at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. His legend had preceded him and folk fans were thrilled. Nothing had been heard from him in decades and his last recordings had been made in 1928. Most of us knew Mississippi John Hurt through a couple of tracks on the Harry Smith Collection of very old folk recordings. I wandered by great good luck into the afternoon blues workshop and heard John do a couple of songs that were just the real thing. The audience loved him immediately, and later that night the workshop audience joined 18,000 others to watch this little guy with a felt hat sit on a kitchen chair on the main stage and utterly enchant them all. A few weeks later, to the amazement of my fellow performers and me at The Gaslight in Greenwich Village, John joined us for a run of a couple of weeks. Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Patrick Sky and Phil Ochs, to name just a few, got to hear him three or four times a night and we all just soaked up that music by osmosis. mississippijh

Midge and I screwed up our courage and invited John and his tour manager, Dick Waterman, over to our tiny apartment for dinner one night. I forget what we served them but how I wish we had photos!

It was during that short run at The Gaslight that John met Doc Watson and the two of them became instant buddies. To see this little black man from the Delta and a blind white man from the mountains of western North Carolina chatting and chuckling was really something for those days.

The tune for my song Bottle Of Wine was clearly inspired by my love of John’s music and ten years or so after his death another song inspired by his guitar playing showed up in my head. This time the song was about him.

DID YOU HEAR JOHN HURT?
By Tom Paxton

It was a frosty night; `
It was beginning to snow,
And down the city streets
The wind began to blow.
We all came to the cellar;
We all emptied the bar,
To hear a little old fella
Play a shiny guitar.

Chorus:
Did you hear John Hurt
Play the Creole Belle?
The Spanish Fandango
That he loved so well.
Did you love John Hurt?
Did you shake his hand?
Did you hear him,
Sing his Candy Man?

On a straight-back chair,
With his felt hat on,
He tickled our fancies
With his Avalon.
And everybody passing
Down Macdougal Street,
Cocked their heads and listened
To the tapping feet. (To Chorus)

Repeat first verse and chorus

©1976 Pax Music, ASCAP

%d bloggers like this: