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John Hurt : CandyMan Blues

Early years
Born John Smith Hurt in Teoc, Carroll County, Mississippi and raised in Avalon, Mississippi, he learned to play guitar at age nine. He was completely self-taught, stealthily playing the guitar of a friend of his mother's, who often stayed at the Hurt home while courting a lady who lived nearby. He spent much of his youth playing old time music for friends and dances, earning a living as a farmhand into the 1920s. His fast, highly syncopated style of playing made his music adept for dancing. On occasion, a medicine show would come through the area; Hurt recalls being wanted by one of them. "One of them wanted me, but I said no because I just never wanted to get away from home." In 1923 he partnered with the fiddle player Willie Narmour as a substitute for his regular partner Shell Smith.

First recordings
When Narmour got a chance to record for Okeh Records as a prize for winning first place in a 1928 fiddle contest, he recommended Hurt to Okeh Records producer Tommy Rockwell. After auditioning "Monday Morning Blues" at his home, he took part in two recording sessions, in Memphis and New York City (see Discography below). While in Memphis, Hurt recalled seeing "many, many blues singers ... Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, and lots, lots more." Hurt described his first recording session as such:

... a great big hall with only the three of us in it: me, the man [Rockwell], and the engineer. It was really something. I sat on a chair, and they pushed the microphone right up to my mouth and told me that I couldn't move after they had found the right position. I had to keep my head absolutely still. Oh, I was nervous, and my neck was sore for days after.

Hurt attempted further negotiations with Okeh to record again, but after the commercial failure of the resulting records, and Okeh Records going out of business during the Great Depression, Hurt returned to Avalon and obscurity, working as a sharecropper and playing local parties and dances.

Rediscovery

Grave of Mississippi John Hurt
After Hurt's renditions of "Frankie" and "Spike Driver Blues" were included in The Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952, and an Australian man discovered a copy of "Avalon Blues", there became increased interest in finding Hurt himself In 1963, a folk musicologist, Tom Hoskins, supervised by Richard Spottswood, was able to locate Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi using the lyrics of "Avalon Blues":

Avalon, my home town, always on my mind/Avalon, my home town.

While in Avalon, Hoskins convinced an apprehensive Hurt to perform several songs for him, to ensure that he was genuine. Hoskins was convinced, and seeing that Hurt's guitar playing skills were still intact, Hoskins encouraged him to move to Washington, D.C., and begin performing on a wider stage. His performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival saw his star rise amongst the new folk revival audience.[5] Before his death he played extensively in colleges, concert halls, coffee houses and on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, as well as recording three further albums for Vanguard Records.[5] Much of his repertoire was recorded for the Library of Congress, also. His fans particularly liked the ragtime songs "Salty Dog" and "Candy Man", and the blues ballads "Spike Driver Blues" (a variant of "John Henry") and "Frankie".

Hurt's influence spanned several music genres including blues, spirituals, country, bluegrass, folk and contemporary rock and roll. A soft-spoken man, his nature was reflected in the work, which consisted of a mellow mix of country, blues and old time music.

Hurt died on November 2, 1966, of a heart attack in Grenada, Mississippi.

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