Beck, Lucinda Williams, Others Revive Mississippi John Hurt Legacy

Upcoming Avalon Blues tribute to benefit Delta Blues Museum.

When Mississippi John Hurt disappeared from the music scene after recording his first tracks for the Okeh label in 1928-29, it was assumed he had died.

But he'd merely returned to his Avalon, Mississippi, hometown to sharecrop, herd cows, play guitar and wait out the Great Depression. Thirty-five years passed before the blues legend was rediscovered by folk fan and producer Tom Hoskins at age 71, allowing him to wax new music and perform at the Newport Folk Festival before his actual death in 1966.

And now, another 35 years having passed, John Hurt's music will live once again, thanks to singer-songwriter Peter Case and fellow devotees including Beck, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and John Hiatt. The proceeds from their upcoming tribute album, Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt, due June 12 on the Vanguard label, will benefit the Delta Blues Museum's Arts and Education Program.

A self-taught guitarist (when asked by his landlord how he wrote his tunes, he reportedly replied, "Well, sir, I just make it sound like I think it ought to"), Hurt created music whose elegance and simplicity would influence at least two generations of folk singers, including Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. A pair of Hurt tunes — "Frankie" and "Spike Driver Blues" — appeared on Harry Smith's seminal 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music. Case has said Hurt's music was his "door into old-time American music."

Avalon Blues will include tracks by Taj Mahal and Geoff Muldaur, who experienced bluesmen such as Hurt and Lead Belly firsthand. By contrast, Case, who performs "Monday Morning Blues" (RealAudio excerpt of Hurt version) with former Blasters member Dave Alvin, is part of a generation for whom the blues is a documented rather than living art form.

Other tracks on Avalon Blues include Beck's reworked version of the endlessly covered "Stagolee" (RealAudio excerpt of Hurt version), folk revivalist Gillian Welch's take on "Beulah Land," Canadian folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn's "Avalon, My Home Town," Nashville singer-songwriter John Hiatt's "I'm Satisfied" and Victoria Williams' "Since I've Laid My Burden Down" (accompanied by wah-wah banjo).

The full track listing:

  • Chris Smither, "Frankie & Albert"
  • Bruce Cockburn, "Avalon, My Home Town"
  • Lucinda Williams, "Angels Laid Him Away"
  • Alvin Youngblood Hart, "Here Am I, Oh Lord, Send Me"
  • Steve & Justin Earle, "Candy Man"
  • Peter Case & Dave Alvin, "Monday Morning Blues"
  • Ben Harper, "Sliding Delta"
  • Geoff Muldaur (with daughters Clare and Jenni), "Chicken"
  • Mark Selby, "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor"
  • Beck, "Stagolee"
  • Victoria Williams, "Since I've Laid My Burden Down"
  • Bill Morrissey, "Pay Day"
  • Taj Mahal, "My Creole Belle"
  • Gillian Welch, "Beulah Land"
  • John Hiatt, "I'm Satisfied"