Mississippi John Hurt was one of the heroes of the 1960s folk-blues revival and a much-loved ‘patriarch hippie’ in the words of his former booking agent Dick Waterman. Hurt’s gentle, finger-picked blues — so unlike the harsher brand of blues usually associated with Mississippi artists — startled and inspired a new generation of listeners and guitarists in 1963, yet his playing had remained virtually unchanged since he first recorded in 1928. In the 35-year interim Hurt had continued to perform, although not as a touring professional – he was a favorite entertainer around Avalon and Grenada for house parties and social affairs, among both blacks and whites. But he made his living doing farm work; to some locals he was known as “Mr. John the Hoe Filer.” Hurt’s repertoire included not only blues of his own making like the now-familiar “Candy Man,” but also songs adapted from various folk traditions that predated the blues, as well as religious material; for a man known for such a sweet countenance, he seemed to have an unusual fondness for murder ballads. Although age took its toll on most of the older country bluesmen and songsters whose careers were rejuvenated late in life, Hurt was still in his performing prime in his seventies, and his 1963-66 recordings are prized just as are the 1928 originals. Hurt spent his revival career living and performing mostly on the East Coast, but returned to Mississippi not long before he died in Grenada on Nov. 11, 1966. His age remains uncertain because he was born in the tiny community of Teoc, Mississippi, without a birth certificate, and various sources have cited at least eight different birth dates from 1892 to 1900. But according to his grandniece Mary Frances Hurt-Wright, who started a museum and festival in honor in Avalon, the Hurt family bible gives the date as July 3, 1893.

Jim O’Neal
(Revised and expanded from an O’Neal entry in the All Music Guide.)