Reviews and Comments
From Bruce Nemerov, Grammy Award -winning writer and musician, `
Phil Ratcliffe's account of a humble black Mississippian, who just happened to he a supremely gifted musician, is stunning in its detail. The author's meticulous research reveals the particulars of John Hurts life, on stage and off."
From Barry Lee Pearson, author of Sounds So Good To Me: The Bluesman's Story; Virginia Piedmont Blues: The Lines of Two Virginia Bluesmen; Jook Right On: Blues Stories and Blues Storytellers; and, with Bill McCulloch, Robert Johnson: Lost and Found,
"Using a blend of archival work and field-collected interviews, Ratcliffe's meticulously researched biography presents an excellent overview of John Hurt's life and art as a Mississippi string band songster and as a central character in the folk revival. His reliance on interviews allows the participants in John Hurt's store to tell their own version of the artist's impact on their lives. These combined voices provide an intriguing portrait of one of America's best-loved musicians and story tellers part songster, part saint. Along the way Ratcliffe deals with the complex maneuvering and economic complexities of the folk revival with coherence and an even hand. This is a keen and lively biography that manages to be both a history of the times and a highly personal portrait of an uncommon and significant artist."
From Stefan Grossman, author, musician, producer, and founder of Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop and Vestapol Productions,
“What a wonderful book! Phil has been working on this biography for years. He has been busy digging up new and lost information as well as traveling the States to interview John Hurt's students, family, and friends. Mississippi John Hurt's 1928 recordings excited folk and blues aficionados. He then brightened the 1960s folk and blues world with his rediscovery. He was still the master guitar player and storyteller, but he showed us with his music and words his great wisdom and warmth. Phil has captured this spirit and how it has impacted on generations of guitar players and music lovers."
From Paul Oliver, author of numerous books on the blues, most recently, Yonder Come the Blues: The Evolution of a Genre; Barrelhouse Blues: Location Recording tend the Early Traditions of the Blues: and Broadcasting the Blues: Black Blues in the Segregation Era,
"There is no question as to the exceptional quality of this biography of a major African American songster. Mississippi John Hurt has been memorialized in the conversion of his Avalon house to a museum, in the memorial tablet marking his Mississippi grave, and in the publication of Philip Ratcliffe's invaluable study.
From Mississippi John Hurt's Grand Nephew, Fred Bolden,
From Musician and Artist, Neil Harpe,
I am continuing to enjoy your excellent book, savoring every page!I am overwhelmed by the thoroughness and scholarliness of your research and presentation! Not to mention your excellent writing style!
Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues (American Made Music Series) (Hardcover)
Hardcover, 5 page Forward, 8 page Introduction, 237 pages of text, 23 pages of Appendices-including Hurt's contracts and a lengthy discography, Chapter Notes and an Index are also included. There's a number of b&w photographs (including some never before seen) and reproductions of advertisements and posters throughout the book, which add depth and detail to the text.
Of all the country blues artists, Mississippi John Hurt deserves to be included with other notable artists of his era. Not strictly a blues singer (he was referred to as a "songster" like Texas' Mance Lipscomb), Hurt also sang folk and gospel songs and would add popular tunes into his repertoire when people requested them. His warm quiet voice and his wonderful guitar playing was easy on the ears. He led a quiet life in Mississippi for the majority of his life. He recorded some of his best work for the OKeh label in 1928, and then seemingly disappeared for decades until his re-discovery in the early 60's, during the folk-blues boom. He then recorded some more fine work up until his death in 1966.
This book, the first to look at Hurt's life and music in depth, is a well researched and written book. Beginning with Hurt's parents, who were freed slaves, the author, Philip Ratcliffe, has used previously published works, interviews with a number of musicians and others who knew Hurt, stories from family and friends, and census records, to put together not only Hurt's life, but what life was like in (very) rural Avalon, Mississippi during this era. Ratcliffe goes into detail about life in the South, and it's affect on the poor farmers (including Hurt), and you come away knowing not only about Hurt, but what shaped his outlook and music. An example-Hurt, talking about his first guitar ("Black Annie" cost his mother $1.50) said-"I would put it on the bed, and flies would light on the strings, and they would ring out just as if someone had been playing them."
The world of the rural South was one of hard-scrabble existence, and Hurt's music was a soothing balm for both himself and his neighbors on a Saturday afternoon or in the evening after a hard day's work. Ratcliffe has done a good job in describing Hurt's easy going personality and outlook on life. His warm, gentle voice (Hurt would never play a juke joint because of the noise) and his sometimes intricate guitar playing were originally known only to a few, and his 1928 recordings basically went nowhere. Ratcliffe pieces together the years Hurt spent in obscurity working hard to support his family, and his final years as a recording artist, and as a star on the concert stage.
The depth of information and it's presentation sometimes make you wish you could have known John Hurt. His gentle outlook and approach, not only to his music, but to life in general, is an example of a man who worked quietly, played his songs, and just got on with life the best he could. If you're interested not only in blues music, but "American" music, you'll like this book. This fine book not only tells the story of Hurt's music, but (perhaps more importantly) tells the story of an America that was vastly different than today, and how Mississippi John Hurt fit into the life given him. You'll come away knowing more about his music, but you'll know much more about this quiet, unassuming, simple man. And that's the real story.
If for some reason you've heard little if any of Hurt's music-try "1928 Sessions" on Yazoo Records, or "Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings" on Columbia/Legacy. For his work in the 60's listen to his work on Vanguard Records. Also of great interest are Hurt's recordings for the Library of Congress, on various labels.
If your tastes run towards this era of blues music/musicians, look into the recently published book "I Feel So Good-The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy", authored by Bob Riesman. It, too, is a good book about an important blues artist.
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