Tuesday, January 15, 2013

John Hurt and Skip James, 1964

Here’s a rare thing: a 1964 radio broadcast with Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James. The radio station, WTBS (now WMBR), belonged to MIT. The show’s host, Phil Spiro, was one of the record collectors who located Son House in Rochester. Hurt’s grandnephew Fred Bolden describes the events surrounding the broadcast in this discussion thread on his John Hurt website.

The contrasts in personality between Hurt and James come through loud and clear in the interview segments of this broadcast: the one affable and at ease, the other prickly and defensive (“I don’t play copycat after nobody. I just plays my own Skip”). Musically the two men are far apart as well: the one bright and buoyant, the other sounding like a ghost. No disrespect to James: that’s the best simile I can muster to suggest the ethereal, mournful quality of his music.

The most surprising moments in this broadcast are Hurt’s two duets with Alan Wilson (later of Canned Heat), who plays harmonica. As in his later recordings with John Lee Hooker, Wilson energizes and inspires a much older musician. These are two of the most exciting Hurt performances I’ve heard. James, as you might imagine, works alone.

The program: “Louis Collins,” “Cow Hookin’ Blues,” “Trouble, I’ve Had It All My Days,” “Cherry Ball Blues,” “Illinois Blues,” “I’m So Glad.” And a bonus: three minutes of conversation from an interview with Muddy Waters, tacked on at the end.

Related posts
Hooker ’n Heat
Mississippi John Hurt
MJH, Discovery
MJH for Chevy
MJH: Sing Out!
Alan Wilson

[Imagine a world in which one could turn on the radio and hear Hurt and James playing live.]

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