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Mississippi John Hurt

Raised in Avalon, Mississippi, John Hurt taught himself to play the guitar around the age of nine. He worked as a sharecropper and began playing at dances and parties, singing to a melodious fingerpicked accompaniment. His first recordings, were made for Okeh Records in 1928.

 
Hurt's recordings of "Frankie" and "Spike Driver Blues" were included in The Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952 which generated considerable interest in trying to locate him. John had recorded a song titled "Avalon Blues" which had a line that said, “Avalon my hometown, always on my mind”. In 1963, musicologist Dick Spottswood located Avalon on a turn-of-the-century map of Mississippi. He asked blues enthusiast Tom Hoskins, who was traveling that way, to enquire about Hurt. When Hoskins arrived in Avalon the first person he asked directed him to John Hurt's cabin.
 
Tom Hoskins persuaded an apprehensive Hurt, who original thought Hoskin’s was a government revenue officer, to perform several songs for him. Seeing that Hurt's guitar playing skills were still intact, encouraged him to move to Washington, D.C., and perform for a broader audience. His performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival caused his star to rise in the folk revival occurring at that time. He performed extensively at colleges, concert halls, and coffeehouses and appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He recorded albums for Vanguard, Piedmont, Rounder and Adelphi Records. Much of his repertoire was also recorded for the Library of Congress.
 
Hurt's influence spanned several music genres, including blues, spirituals, country, bluegrass and folk. A soft-spoken man, his nature was reflected in the work, which consisted of a mellow mix of country, blues, and old-time music.
 
Mississippi John Hurt died on November 2, 1966, of a heart attack, in the hospital at Grenada, Mississippi.

 

 

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Mississippi John Hurt Single Song Downloads


Ain't Nobody's Dirty Business
Level: 1/2
Tuning: Standard

Mississippi John Hurt recorded this in 1928. He played it in the key of C using first position chords. It's a great tune and easy to play. Once you can play this arrangement check out other recordings of this song by Frank Stokes, Earl Johnson and His Dixie Entertainers, Bo Carter, Riley Puckett and Emry Arthur.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt


 



Avalon Blues
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

Avalon Blues is the song that led to John Hurt's rediscovery. It has one of the most memorable signature licks of any E blues, and the more you repeat that lick, the deeper you get into the song and the stronger your rhythm gets. Played in the key of E.

Taught by John Miller



Beulah Land
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

"Beulah Land" is a I, IV, V in E that has a few challenging spots where you break from a consistent alternating bass while playing the melody to playing the melody notes in a more lead line fashion. Hammer-ons, pull-off's, and slides are also used throughout.

Taught by Tom Feldmann



Big Leg Blues
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

This one is a real showpiece, mining the key of D for all its possibilities. Slides, playing up the neck, intricate rhythm - it has it all.

Taught by John Miller



Blessed Be The Name
Level: 1/2
Tuning: Standard

One from Mississippi John Hurt's 1928 recording sessions, "Blessed Be The Name" is an energetic piece that will teach you how to switch between pinched notes to alternating fingerpicking, which in and of itself is a useful exercise in right hand control.

Taught by Tom Feldmann

 



Blind Man Sit In The Way And Cried
Level: 1/2
Tuning: Standard

It's true that the more you know, the more you can do. However, you don't need to know much in order to play good music and "Blind Man Sit In The Way And Cried" is a prime example with ithe use of just one chord, G. Alternating bass, hammer-ons and pull-off's are all there to make this tune sing.

Taught by Tom Feldmann

 




Boy's You're Welcome
Level: 2
Tuning: Open G

One of only a few songs John Hurt played in Open G, he wrote this after his rediscovery and recorded it for Vanguard Records. The G bass that drones throughout gives this piece a distinctive, flowing sound, using simple I-IV-V chord shapes.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt

 

 


 




Candyman
Level: 4
Tuning: Standard

John Hurt's version of this song has an epic quality; there's really nothing else like it. It's a challenge to put together, but a challenge well worth taking. Played in the key of A.

Taught by John Miller



C-H-I-C-K-E-N
Level: 1
Tuning: Standard

Folks around Avalon, Miss. say John Hurt wrote his version of this old tune while sitting under a big magnolia tree in the front yard of his house. Played in the key of C, it is one of John's simpler tunes and is especially popular with children of all ages. John's song may actually come from two different sources, including a 1920s version by old-time guitarist Riley Puckett.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt

 





Coffee Blues
Level: 2/3
Tuning: Standard

One of John Hurt's more lively blues, this tune provides an excellent lesson in how John played in the key of A, using the second-position D chord he played often in many of his other songs.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt

 




Do Lord Remember Me
Level: 1/2
Tuning: Standard

"Do Lord Remember Me" is a fantastic first song for fingerpickers. With just three chords, G, C, and D, you will learn how to pick a basic melody, keep a steady alternating bass, and how the G chord can be moved up and down the neck.

Taught by Tom Feldmann

 




Frankie
Level: 3
Tuning: Open G

Frankie is yet another classic from John Hurt, and you couldn't pick a better song to begin to develop your familiarity with Spanish (Open G) tuning. There's lots of intricate, driving picking on Frankie.

Taught by John Miller

 




Got The Blues, Can't Be Satisfied
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

John Hurt was the first pre-war artist to record this song commercially in 1928. Played in G, this tune is a great example of how John used muted bass strings "outside" the regular chordal harmony to keep the rhythm going as he executed licks on the treble strings.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt

 




Here I Am Oh Lord Send Me
Level: 1/2
Tuning: Standard

Fans of John Hurt will also recognize this tune as "You Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley" and is the natural progression from "Do Lord Remember Me." With just three chords, G, C, & D, you will learn how to pick a basic melody, keep a steady alternating bass, and how the G chord can be moved up and down the neck.

Taught by Tom Feldmann

 



Joe Turner Blues
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

John's take on this old blues song is a masterpiece of pre-war fingerpicking in G. A popular blues that had been around since the early 1920s, W.C. Handy sang this song for the Library of Congress in 1938.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt

 





Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

Written with lyrics by W.E.Myer, this song is obviously influenced by the sound of Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman from Meridian, Miss. Bass lines and melody picking, along with Myer's clever words, makes this a great addition to any acoustic blues set!

Taught by Tom Feldmann

 

 




Louis Collins
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

One of John Hurt's prettiest melodies, Louis Collins is a great song to learn to develop your ability to sing along with your playing, for the melody, as sung, sits right on top of where you phrase it on the guitar. Played in the key of C.

Taught by John Miller

 



 



Make Me A Pallet
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

 

A popular tune from the Buddy Bolden Band in New Orleans, this song was also recorded by the W.C. Handy Orchestra of Memphis in 1917. Played in C, John simplified the chords a little, and his version has been a favorite of many great folk, blues, and bluegrass guitarists over the years, including Doc Watson.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt




Monday Morning Blues
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

John Hurt incorporated slides and playing up the neck a bit on this one. One of his more intense numbers. Played in the key of A.

Taught by John Miller


 



My Creole Belle
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

John Hurt's arrangement of this lovely tune is one of his easier ones. It's a great one for beginning to develop familiarity and comfort with the thumb-wrapped F chord. Played in the key of C.

Taught by John Miller


 



Nearer My God To Thee
Level: 1/2
Tuning: Standard

"Nearer My God To Thee" is in the vein of other Hurt classics in D, "Stack O' Lee"and "C.C. Rider" and offers a fantastic look at Mississippi John Hurt's playing style in D. Consistent alternating bass throughout, slides and hammer-ons. A real fun piece to play.

Taught by Tom Feldmann

 




Oh Mary Don't You Weep
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

"Oh Mary Don't You Weep" offers some quick changes in the key of E. At its core it is a basic I, IV, V progression in E but with the melody lines this tune can really jump.

Taught by Tom Feldmann



Payday
Level: 2
Tuning: Open D

With a beautiful, contemplative melody, Payday draws you into its own world. It's a perfect introduction to Vestapol (Open D) tuning, and utilizes a playing slide without a slide approach in which you fret only single notes, never fingering any chords.

Taught by John Miller


 



Praying On The Old Camp Ground
Level: 1/2
Tuning: Standard

One from Mississippi John Hurt's 1928 recording sessions, "Praying On The Old Camp Ground" breaks from a consistent alternating bass while playing the melody to playing the melody notes in a more lead line fashion which will help encourage players to leave the bass behind now and again and let the melody stand on its own.

Taught by Tom Feldmann

 



Richland Woman Blues
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

On this sassy number, John Hurt occasionally drops his alternating bass out, and it's great to learn how to keep your rhythmic bearings when that happens. If you're drawn to raggy material, this song is for you. Played in the key of C.

Taught by John Miller


 

 



See See Rider
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

See See Rider provides a work-out for the right hand, with some intricate picking, and John Hurt's unusual progression on this one makes it a sort of one-off. Play this one with the kind of rhythmic flow John Hurt had and you'll really have accomplished something. Played in the key of D.

Taught by John Miller


 



Since I've Laid My Burden Down
Level: 1/2
Tuning: Standard

"Since I've Laid My Burden Down," a staple in the gospel category and a prominent tune in John Hurt's live performances. This tune will teach you the basics for fingerpicking in the key of C.

Taught by Tom Feldmann



Slidin' Delta
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

This is John Hurt's take on an 8-bar blues in E, and it sports a fairly simple left hand and driving rhythm.

Taught by John Miller


 



Spider, Spider
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

A deceptively simple sounding tune, this is one of John Hurt's most challenging pieces played in C. It's a great example of how John simply moved a first position chord shape up and down the neck to play a melody with "instant" bass. You can hear John let out a sigh of relief when he finished it at the Vanguard Records recording session!

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt

 




Spike Driver Blues
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

With a beautiful economy in the left hand, Spike Driver's Blues is a perfect song to develop your ability to play with an alternating bass. A classic played in the key of G.

Taught by John Miller


 



Stagolee
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

John Hurt also liked the Key of D, and here he uses many of the techniques that make his playing in this key so distinctive and full sounding without using an altered tuning. His version of this song tells an abridged version of the old murder tale, with two cool instrumental breaks.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt

 




Weeping and Wailing
Level: 2
Tuning: Standard

Gospel Blues in waltz time are a rare thing. Played out of the key of C you'll be jumping around that C chord and moving up and down the neck. Hammer-ons and pull-off's are also used throughout.

Taught by Tom Feldmann

 


Worried Blues
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

John Hurt utilized an infectious boogie bass for Worried Blues that is especially fun to play. This is one of his really exciting up-tempo numbers. Played in the key of A.

Taught by John Miller


 

 



You've Got To Die
Level: 2/3
Tuning: Standard

Yet another key favored by John Hurt is E, and in his version of a song originally called "Just As Well Get Ready, You've Got To Die" he plays double-stops up and down the neck to articulate the melody while keeping the rhythm going on open, muted bass strings. An excellent example of this technique and a great way to familiarize yourself with different positions on the fingerboard.

Taught by Jim Ohlschmidt

 




You've Got To Walk That Lonesome Valley
Level: 3
Tuning: Standard

In his arrangement of this song played in the key of G, John Hurt utilizes a technique in which the melody takes the bass for a ride , with the movement on the sixth string following the melody as it moves up the first string. It's a good technique to get a grip on, for you'll encounter it in other songs from time to time.

Taught by John Miller