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aVAlOn RorY BlOck

A Tribute To Mississippi John Hurt

“In this effort I remember John Hurt, celebrate his music and times, and rejoice at having had the chance to meet him. Nothing will ever be the same as a result, and my life has been made far richer by the experience.” — RORY BLOCK
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. Everybody Loves John 5:22 Avalon 5:14 Candy Man 3:41 Frankie & Albert 5:57 Got The Blues Can’t Be Satisfied 3:58 Louis Collins 4:16 Richland Woman Blues 4:43 Spike Driver Blues 4:15 Stagolee 4:00 Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor 4:42 Pay Day 4:39

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SPCD1369 C & P 2013 Stony Plain Records. Stony Plain Recording Co. Ltd. PO Box 861 Edmonton, AB Canada T5J 2L8. For a free catalogue: tel: 780-468-6423 fax: 780-465-8941 email: info@stonyplainrecords.com MADE IN CANADA. Please become a member of the Blues Foundation at www.blues.org

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This is now the fourth cd in my Mentor Series, and as always, the challenge of creating a proper tribute is far greater than anticipated. Every country blues master I can think of put something extraordinary, ethereal, spiritual and so powerful into their playing, as to make it almost impossible to reproduce. Many worthy artists have covered these songs, but when you examine the source, you understand more fully the level of greatness that was in the original versions – greatness that is also almost impossible to define. But let me try by saying that true character, charisma, drive, and soulfulness are some of the essential ingredients. So how will we manage? With devotion, respect, reverence, and with energy – with extra “oomph” – lest we be weak. Mississippi John Hurt was a truly unique artist. He left a resounding impact on our musical landscape. We think of him as outwardly mellow, sweet, and as one writer described it, singing in a “whisper.” But have you pondered the words? Alongside gospel material, this gentle man sang about sex, murder, mystery, violence and steamy sensuality. It gets ever deeper the more you listen. Most people finger pick simply, carefully, and with enough volume to be heard and enjoyed. But next to the masters we can find ourselves tinkling away while the train pulls out of the station. Mississippi John Hurt bounced rhythmically from side to side while he was playing – did this bounce add power and jauntiness to the notes, or did his extra strong attack on the strings create the bounce? We can never do polite versions of these songs if we want to capture some of the power that made the originals great and enduring.

RORY BLOCK when a woman gets the blues

The following is an excerpt from my autobiography When A Woman Gets The Blues, available at www.roryblock.com and amazon.com

“In December of 1963 I met Mississippi John Hurt at a concert in New York which also featured the great Old Timey musician Doc Boggs. We went back stage as we always did. Stefan Grossman was part of the accepted insiders group and we never needed special passes. Hurt’s presence was shy and gentle. His face was beautifully weather beaten, he wore a signature hat, and always had a mellow smile. I loved the way he rocked around when he played... it was a bounce that started slow and built up to a strong pace that carried the music. He had his own way of doing this – I never saw anyone else with this exact style of moving and playing. At times when I am performing I feel this energy come over me: the Mississippi John Hurt bounce energy... Stefan and I traveled to Washington DC to stay with Nick Perls. Mississippi John Hurt was now living in the area so we went to his home. I remember this unpainted wooden house – it was very quiet, and beautifully bare inside. Hurt sat on

a chair in the middle of the room while we talked and played music. Later some small children tumbled across the floor. “Frankie & Albert” was my favorite Hurt song and I would imagine I played it for him. He offered us coffee, but neither Stefan nor I were coffee drinkers. I never felt the urge to pepper him with questions or pry for information – I was not a filmmaker and left that to the historians. When in the presence of great blues masters I always felt a sense of joy and purpose. This was where I wanted to be.” I think it interesting to note that Mississippi John Hurt covered many Appalachian country songs. This just underscores the exchange of musical styles that was going on in the early 1900’s which

few people understood. Mississippi John Hurt knew musicians who played Appalachian music (Doc Boggs for example), and many of the Old Timey players knew the blues pickers. At the age of fourteen, sitting on the porch of an old wood frame house in North Carolina, I heard Clarence Ashley say, “I learned this one from an old blues player” and I heard Mississippi John Hurt talk about the country fiddle players he knew. What we have in the end is a true melting pot which included music from Africa, the British Isles, Flamenco (Hurt referred to open G tuning as “Spanish”), folk, jazz, popular contemporary music of the day, and probably even Classical music, to name some of the sources. One of the things I have endeavored to capture in this tribute series is a return to a more earthy, natural approach. We don’t love the old recordings because they are crackle-free, or fancy, or have clever formats. No, some of the songs are one chord throughout. Some have the same simple refrain which repeats again and again after each verse – no solos, just the driving beat and original theme. And almost never fancy endings. I call these abrupt events the “Get outa’ town” endings – just plunk, and wham, or the sound of someone getting up and leaving the room before the song is over. This is part of what

Mississippi John Hurt 1963 – Photo © John Byrne Cooke

I love. So instead of sweeping the tracks clean of all noise, sanitizing, bleaching, disinfecting and straining the music, Rob and I feel compelled to let it be real. Even so, Rob stands on the side of high end sound, and I (who expect to start recording before the sound check begins, and want the “tape” to be rolling the moment I walk in the studio), never care a thing about that as my background is in the soulful, spontaneous, heartfelt music of this country. Every recording is a field recording in my view. The first take is always the best. So in this effort I remember John Hurt, celebrate his music and times, and rejoice at having had the chance to meet him. Nothing will ever be the same as a result, and my life has been made far richer by the experience.
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Produced by Rory Block and Rob Davis for Aurora Productions Executive Producer: Holger Petersen Recorded, mixed and mastered by Rob Davis at Aurora Productions mobile studios Guitars and vocals by Rory Block Rory plays her OM40 Signature Model Martin guitars, uses Martin SP3200 medium gauge strings, a Shubb capo, and an SK 14mm deep well socket Photography: Sergio Kurhajec Mississippi John Hurt Photo: John Byrne Cooke Graphic Design: Mark Dutton at Halkier + Dutton Design www.roryblock.com Exclusive worldwide bookings: Ted Kurland Associates contact: matt@tedkurland.com Tracks 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11: John Hurt, EMI Longitude Music Inc Track 1: Rory Block, Brown Foot Publishing Company Tracks 4, 10: Traditional arranged and adapted by Rory Block, Brown Foot Publishing Company Track 6: John Hurt, Wynwood Music Co Inc / Zap Publishing Co Track 7: John Hurt, Songs Of Windswept Pacific Special thanks to Stefan Grossman, Martin Guitars, Holger and Stony Plain Records, Mark Dutton, John Byrne Cooke, Matt McCluskey and Ted Kurland Associates, Mark Pucci and Jill Kettles at mpmedia, Todd Glazer, and all those who work together to keep the music alive and vital – venues, fans, radio stations, writers, online resources, etc. – we love and appreciate you!

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