Blues greats re-emerge from the pages of history


“In early 1963, an east coast guitar player and fan of the blues called Tom Hoskins found himself poring over an old road atlas, looking for a place called Avalon somewhere in Mississippi. Hoskins was on the trail of a figure called Mississippi John Hurt, known to him through two tracks on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and a bootleg tape that another avid blues collector, Dick Spottswood, had in turn acquired from an Australian collector. On that recording, Hurt could be heard singing: ‘Avalon’s my hometown, always on my mind/ Pretty mamas in Avalon, want me there all the time.’ It was enough of a clue: even though the recordings (originally issued on the Okeh label) dated from 1928, Hoskins had a hunch that Hurt might still be alive, and headed to Mississippi. Finally he heard that a blues singer fitting his description was living down the end of a nearby gravel track. Sure enough, a frail, 72-year-old who answered the door of the shack proved to be their man. He had quit playing music years earlier, but once furnished with a guitar, he got over his fear that this was the FBI come for him and showed them how little he’d forgotten. ‘I know how Howard Carter felt when he opened Tutankhamun’s tomb and looked in,’ Hoskins later recalled. ‘He was alive and he still had it.’ Nor was Hurt the only figure to re-emerge from the thick haze of history – from a time and a place that postwar collectors of the country blues, such as James McKune and Harry Smith, had assumed was lost to them. Nick Perls, another fan, found the great Son House living in Rochester, New York, completely oblivious to a newfound interest in his earliest recordings. Sleepy John Estes turned up in Brownsville, Tennessee, and Bukka White turned out to be living in Memphis. Even Skip James was alive and he, too, was rediscovered – in Bentonia, Mississippi. James, the author of songs such as Devil Got My Woman, was the son of a former bootlegger turned preacher from Mississippi who had recorded a series of tracks for Paramount in 1931. In the decades since, he’d quit music and led an itinerant life, but by the summer of 1964 was working as a tractor driver in Mississippi. …”
Guardian
Rolling Stone: New Documentary Blends Civil Rights Murders With Hunt for Blues Icons (Video)
W – Skip James
W – Son House

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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