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John Hurt of Avalon, Mississippi recorded his first album of country blues guitar in December of 1928 for Okeh Records. At the time, Okeh was combing the country looking for undiscovered folk and blues musicians to record for their successful line of anachronistically labeled “race records.”
After the recording, Mississippi John Hurt went back to sharecropping and playing his guitar for local dances and parties.
Over 30 years later those recordings were discovered by Tom Hoskins. The great folk revival was underway, and revivalists like Hoskins were thirsty for authentic and undiscovered roots musicians to share with the world.
Nobody knew the whereabouts of John Hurt, but a clue came in the form of one of the songs on the album, “Avalon.” The song included these lyrics, sung by Hurt: “Avalon, my home town, always on my mind”
Hoskins ventured to Avalon, and sure enough found it was still Hurt’s home town. Better yet, Hurt could still play.
It didn’t take long for Mississippi John Hurt became one of the most beloved figures in the folk revival movements, playing to spellbound audiences all over the country, including those at the Newport Folk Festival and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
John Hurt has influenced countless musicians since.
With a voice like a warm blanket, a steady and hypnotic right hand, and a spirit of gentleness and humility perfectly captured by his less is more approach to picking, hearing Hurt doesn’t just make you want to play like him, it makes you want to be like him.
Mississippi John Hurt playing “Corrina Corrina”
After discovering his music myself years ago, I ventured to learn as much of his fingerpicking repertoire on guitar as I could. Not long ago I made the delightful discovery that his style could translate quite well to clawhammer banjo.
So this Song of the Week installment marks our first foray into Hurt’s catalog.
There will be more.
aDADE tuning, Brainjo level 3
Notes on the Tab
In this arrangement, I’ve tabbed out the part I play in the banjo “solo,” as well as the vocal backup I play on the banjo while singing.
Notes in parentheses are “skip” notes – to learn more about skips and syncopated skips, check out my video lesson on the subject.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
PRIOR SONG OF THE WEEK EPISODES
- Episode 1: “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”
- Episode 2: “Gumtree Canoe”
- Episode 3: “Crawdad Hole”
- Episode 4: “Oh Susanna”
- Episode 5: “Freight Train”
- Episode 6: “Grandfather’s Clock”
- Episode 7: “Hop High Lulu”
- Episode 8: “Been All Around This World”
- Episode 9: “I’ll Fly Away”
- Episode 10: “Leaving Home”
- Episode 11: “Poor Orphan Child”
- Episode 12: “Mr. Tambourine Man”
- Episode 13: “Swanee River”
- Episode 14: “Big Sciota”
- Episode 15: “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”
- Episode 16: “Darling Corey”
- Episode 17: “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
- Episode 18: “America the Beautiful”
- Episode 19: “Bury Me Beneath the Willow”
- Episode 20: “Way Out There”
- Episode 21: “New Slang”
- Episode 22: “I Saw the Light”
- Episode 23: “Amazing Grace”
- Episode 24: “Blowin’ in the Wind”
- Episode 25: “Yankee Doodle”
- Episode 26: “Budapest”
- Episode 27: “Wildwood Flower”
- Episode 28: “Paradise”
- Episode 29: “Mountain Dew”
- Episode 30: “Blue Tail Fly”
- Episode 31: “Otto Wood”
- Episode 32: “Down on the Corner”
- Episode 33: “City of New Orleans”
- Episode 34: “Big Rock Candy Mountains”
- Episode 35: “Come to the Bower”
- Episode 36: “Old Kentucky Home”
- Episode 37: “Long Journey Home”
- Episode 38: “Dixie”
- Episode 39: “Hard Times”
Level 2 arrangements and video demos for the Tune (and Song!) of the Week tunes are now available as part of the Breakthrough Banjo course.
Click here for a current list of all the clawhammer songs and tunes currently available inside of The Vault