Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi John Hurt’

‘Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me . . .’

Friday, October 22nd, 2021

It was ninety-three years ago today in Atlanta, on October 22, 1928 – according to the notes to the CD The Essential Jimmie Rodgers – that the Singing Brakeman recorded a song that I’d guess is one of his best-known: “Waiting For A Train.” The recording was released the following February as Bluebird 5163.

I imagine that my first exposure to the tune came with Boz Scaggs’ version, found on his 1969 self-titled album recorded in Muscle Shoals, a track highlighted by Duane Allman’s sweet work on dobro. (Also on the album, of course, is the epic “Loan Me A Dime,” which features Allman’s ferocious slide work.) I got the album in the spring of 1989, but I imagine I’d heard Scagg’s version of the tune long before, though I have no idea when.

Scaggs’ version is just one of more than eighty covers of the tune listed at Second Hand Songs. Three versions are listed from 1929, by Riley Puckett, by Ed (Jake) West, and by Carson Robison and Frank Luther, who recorded as the Jimson Brothers.

The most recent version of “Waiting For A Train” listed at the site was by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry. They recorded the song in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, the same room where Robert Johnson recorded twenty-three tracks during three sessions in November 1936. Bragg and Henry released their version in 2016 on the album Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad.

There was a surprise, though, waiting for me at Second Hand Songs. Listed with the versions of “Waiting For A Train” were thirteen versions of the song “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me,” with the words credited to Mississippi John Hurt. The website says that Hurt first recorded the song in 1966, a take that was included on the posthumous 1972 album Last Sessions.

I’ve noted here before that Second Hand Songs is a good place to start but not always complete. That’s the case here, as in the digital stacks here I find a version of “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me” that Hurt recorded in 1963 for the Library of Congress. That version was first released in 1982 on an album titled Avalon Blues: The Library of Congress Recordings, Vol. 2 and has been released on several anthologies since (as has the 1966 version) as shown by the photo in the video below.

Whichever came first, it’s a surprise and a delight to hear the same melody as Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train” used as the basis for an entirely different song (as was frequently the case in the folk and blues tradition).

One From 12-28

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Well, as we edge closer and closer to the end of the year, we’re going to spend a few days listening to tunes recorded in late December over the years.

In New York City in December 1928, Mississippi John Hurt laid down a number of tracks for the Okeh label. (The question arises: How many tracks? Well, the 1996 CD in my stacks – subtitled The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings – has thirteen tracks. The YouTube page devoted to Hurt lists an album titled Spike Driver Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings released this year that includes nineteen tracks, which tells me that six tracks have come to light in recent years.) Okeh seems to have released six records from the sessions, but they didn’t do well on the market, and Hurt went back to farming in Mississippi. He was rediscovered in 1963 and went on to record several albums until his death in 1966.

Hurt’s often called a bluesman because he was rediscovered during the years when researchers, musicians, historians and just plain fans combed the southern states for artists who had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. But Hurt’s music, with its light-fingered picking and lilting voice, has little of the blues in it, despite the titles of many of his tunes.

That’s the case with the track below, “Got the Blues (Can’t Be Satisfied),” recorded on December 28, 1928, eighty-eight years ago today. And I wish I had a tale to hang on the track – or any of Hurt’s work – but all I can say is that anytime I hear his nimble guitar work and his mellow voice, my day is just a little bit better.

‘All My Days . . .’

Friday, April 15th, 2016

As we continue to make our ways here through the Valley of Virus – the Texas Gal seemingly ascending from its depths toward the uplands of recovery and me evidently making my way into its unpleasantness – there’s not much energy here.

So I was going to play the easy card that I’ve dropped on the table several times recently: In today’s case, asking the RealPlayer to find tracks recorded on April 15 over the years. I had a hunch that among them would be the recordings of Mississippi John Hurt’s concert on April 15, 1965, at Oberlin College in Ohio. And I was right. The tracks from that concert came up in the list.

But the RealPlayer also told me those tracks are no longer in the folder where I stashed them. And that’s true. Evidently, as I was updating my collection of Hurt’s music the other day, I inadvertently deleted the Oberlin concert tracks. I will have to replace them, and I’m not sure where I originally found them, likely somewhere out on the ’Net some years ago. The local library might have the CD, or I may track it down on Amazon and add it to the physical stacks here.

In any case, it’s always a good day to hear Mississippi John Hurt, so I’ll shift to a track included on his Last Sessions album, recorded in February 1966 at the Manhattan Towers Hotel in New York City. It’s suitable accompaniment for a trip through any valley: “Trouble, I’ve Had It All My Days.

Date corrected after first posting.

‘Come On In My Kitchen . . .’

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Come on into the kitchen here at the studios. You need an invitation? Okay, here’s one by a British blues musician named Paul Williams, from his 1973 album In Memory Of Robert Johnson:

Looking at the record jacket shown in the video, a blues fan sees an error. Robert Johnson did not die in a hotel room but rather in a house in Greenwood, Mississippi (at 109 Young Street, if the late Honeyboy Edwards’ commentary in the 1991 documentary The Search For Robert Johnson is accurate). But the mistake on that jacket simply illustrate how little was known about the man forty years ago when his music had already inspired a generation of blues artists through whatever 78s had survived nearly forty years and through two LPs released by Columbia.

Anyway, you’re in the kitchen. Over there, on the right, is the stove. In a 1929 recording, Blind Willie McTell warns Bethenea Harris that “This Is Not The Stove To Brown Your Bread” (with Alfoncy Harris adding guitar in the background). But the oven’s been in use, according to Spencer Wiggins, who wants to know “Who’s Been Warming My Oven” in a track recorded for Goldwax sometime around 1967 but not released at the time:

And over there, on the left, is the refrigerator. Alice Cooper sang in 1970’s “Refrigerator Heaven” about being frozen until a cure for cancer was found, but that’s happening in some lab, not in my kitchen. So we’ll turn a little bit and head for the counter, and that’s where we find Dolly Parton’s “Old Black Kettle” waiting for soup or stew or whatever we’ll have for dinner this evening, as it has been since she sang about it in 1973. And next to it we find breakfast: The “Second Cup Of Coffee” that Gordon Lightfoot’s been sipping since 1972 and some “Shortnin’ Bread” courtesy of Mississippi John Hurt, probably from 1966.

And then we’re out the door for the day.

Saturday Single No. 259

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

With the Texas Gal sleeping in and the catboys satisfied for the moment with a fresh supply of dry food, it’s time to take advantage of the Saturday morning quiet and wander down the random road in search of a Saturday Single:

First up is a live performance of “Southern Rain” by the Cowboy Junkies. The track comes from Waltz Across America, the live album the rootsy band released in 2000. Originally found on the 1992 release, Black Eyed Man, the song’s live version stretches a little longer than the studio version, but it retains the atmosphere of mysterious foreboding that makes the original track stand out. I won’t say the Junkies are one of my favorite bands, but I like their music a lot – I don’t think I’ve ever hit the “skip” button when their stuff has popped up at random – and “Southern Rain” is a good place to start this morning.

Next up is “The Day I Found Myself” by Honey Cone, one of those “Thank God you’re gone because I’m so much better without you” songs that pop up now and then. Honey Cone was a female R&B trio from Los Angeles that had ten records on or near the charts between mid-1969 and late 1972. Best remembered among those singles, I’m sure, is “Want Ads,” which went to No. 1 on both the pop and the R&B charts. “The Day I Found Myself” got to No. 23 on the pop chart and to No. 8 on the R&B chart.

If I read things correctly at All-Music Guide, the band Country Joe & The Fish went through major changes for several reasons in late 1968 and 1969, which meant, among other things, that the band that performed behind Joe McDonald at Woodstock was not the group that had recorded the group’s two brilliant 1967 albums: Electric Music for the Mind and Body and I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die. Maybe I should have known that, but I didn’t. What got me rummaging through the band’s history was our third stop this morning: “For No Reason” from the spring 1969 album Here We Are Again. The track is a dirge for times lost:

He wants to find men
Who can love for no reason,
Who open their hearts
To life of all seasons
But they’ve all gone, it seems
Off in their limousines—
I want to live where men
Can believe their dreams.

Kind of a downer on a sunny Saturday morning.

And we stay on the mellow side, with the RealPlayer settling on “Rocking Chair” by Lesley Duncan from her 1975 album, Moonbathing. Duncan, whose name has popped up here before, was one of England’s top session vocalists. According to AMG, she “sang on recordings by Elton John, the Dave Clark Five, Pink Floyd, the Alan Parsons Project, Michael Chapman, and Joyce Everson and the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar.” She also wrote “Love Song,” which John recorded on Tumbleweed Connection (and which shows up as a live duet by the two on Moonbathing.) All of that always makes me expect more than I get from Duncan’s solo work; “Rocking Chair” is pleasant but not much more than that.

And then comes the roar of “Holier Than Thou” from Metallica’s self-titled 1991 album. Metallica? In whiteray’s garden? Well, yeah. I wanted “Enter Sandman” in the RealPlayer, and I got hold of and ripped the CD but forgot to delete the rest of the album. So we’ll just touch down there long enough to recognize the alien landscape and then move on to our Saturday morning destination.

And we land on “Spike Driver Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt, who – as I know I’ve mentioned before – recorded some tracks for the Okeh label in 1928 and then faded out of memory until the blues boom of the 1960s, when he was rediscovered farming and still playing his repertoire of folk and blues near his home town of Avalon, Mississippi. The version of “Spike Driver Blues” that popped up this morning was the one recorded in New York City in December 1928. But at YouTube, I found a live performance of the tune recorded for the television show Rainbow Quest, hosted by folk legend Pete Seeger in 1965 and 1966. The thirty-nine episodes of the show, says Wikipedia, were recorded “at WNJU-TV (Channel 47), a New York City-based UHF station with studios in Newark, New Jersey. The shows were broadcast by Channel 47, primarily a Spanish-language outlet, to a very limited audience because only televisions equipped with a UHF antenna and tuner could receive them, and reception was difficult in an age prior to cable.”

I’d never heard of Rainbow Quest until this morning. There are various episodes available on DVD here, and I may have to get some of those. But for this morning, there’s this video of Mississippi John Hurt performing “Spike Driver Blues,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.