For some reason, I mentioned Mississippi John Hurt to a client who had never heard of him. So I went looking for a song to send him. Hurt was an interesting guy. He was a sharecropper in Mississippi, but his guitar playing and singing made him popular as a local act. This eventually led to some recordings for Okeh Records in the late 1920s. These didn’t take off, so Hurt went back to farming.
Many years later, an ethnomusicologist, Tom Hoskins, discovered Hurt’s music and decided to locate him based upon lyrics in his song “Avalon Blues.” In 1963, he did so. This led to Hurt performing at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival where he became a star on the folk scene. You can see why. His guitar work is fabulous. And so for the three years that remained for him, he performed widely and recorded three albums. It’s kind of a shame that he didn’t get to perform music his whole life. But at least he and the rest of the world got those last three years and the music that is left to us.
One of his original recording was “Frankie,” an early folk version of the pop song “Frankie and Johnny” about Frankie Baker’s murder of her lover Allen Britt. It’s worth checking out. There is also a fine version of “Spike Driver Blues.” But here is the folk standard “Lonesome Valley.” This is from Pete Seeger’s television show Rainbow Quest: