Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mississippi John Hurt for Chevy

Flipping through channels, I was surprised to hear the guitar and voice of Mississippi John Hurt in a Chevrolet commercial. Hurt’s fingerpicking style has turned up in commercials before: with products like coffee and lemonade, the sound signifies “old-time goodness” (and rightly so, no matter the quality of the product advertised). To my knowledge, the Chevy commercial marks the first time Hurt himself has been heard in a commercial, in a 1963 Library of Congress recording of “You Are My Sunshine,” played in C position, with the guitar tuned two whole-steps down.

I suspect that someone at the ad agency really, really loves Hurt’s music: note that the African-American dad in the commercial (ten seconds in) is wearing a hat that resembles Hurt’s signature fedora, dark brown with a tan band. Hardly coincidental, I’d say.

Why Maxwell House has never used Hurt’s “Coffee Blues” in a commercial is beyond me: “Ain’t Maxwell House all right!”

A related post
Mississippi John Hurt (From Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest)

Related reading
Mississippi John Hurt Museum

[Yes, The Lovin’ Spoonful took their name from “Coffee Blues.”]

comments: 8

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Mississippi John even borrows some lines from the original jingle, lending some extra charm to his song.
There's a Lightnin Hopkins song about buying his girlfriend a coffee house that might have been used for some commercial benefits too - I'll bet you knew that!

Michael Leddy said...

What does he borrow, Tom? And what’s the jingle? I’m drawing a blank.

I didn’t know about the Lighting Hopkins song. That seems like a novel sentiment for blues.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Hurt "copped" lines like "good to the last drop" (used by Maxwell House as far back as 1917)and he sings later on, "You understand,
if I can get me just a spoonful of Maxwell's House
do me much good as two or three cups this other coffee" which I believe they boast.

Michael Leddy said...

Oh, gotcha. “Jingle” made me think “music” — I thought there was a song I was missing.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Yes Michael you were right to assume such: "jingle" is "usually" music. I look under the the word derivation and it says Imit. - imitative in origin,

Anonymous said...

So is his estate getting the synchronization royalties?

-- John, a MJH fan since 1968

Anonymous said...

At the time the Maxwell House song was considered too risqué for radio listeners and they feared a black man singing about coffee with sexual connotations would lose business rather than gain them customers. I don't figure there were any coloured folk on at the board meeting that day when they decided this.

Michael Leddy said...

Do you have any evidence for that claim?

It’s easy to hear the song as a celebration of sexuality, but a “spoonful” in blues language is a dose of cocaine — nothing salacious about that. (I remember, way back when, that The Lovin’ Spoonful’s name was supposed to be a drug reference.) It would have been wonderful though to have a commercial with Hurt’s spoken introduction to the song, or with the exclamation “Ain’t Maxwell House all right!” Nothing salacious or druggy there. :)