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In 1964 or ’65, a teenaged Bob Dylan fanatic wangled his way to the Newport Folk Festival, dreaming of becoming just like his idol. At a song-swap workshop, he stared and stared at Dylan, until he realized that Dylan was staring and staring at an old black guy softly singing a blues. When the old bluesman did an instrumental break, Dylan craned over so far to see those old fingers move on the frets, he nearly fell out of his chair.
The starstruck kid looked over at the old blues guy, then back at Dylan, then back at the old blues guy––and got the idea that changed his life. “If I want to write like Dylan,” he thought, “I need to stop listening to him and start listening to the cats he listens to. Get to the source.”
That teenager was iconic New England songwriter Bill Morrissey, who never did a tribute album to his idol, Bob Dylan––but did record one for that old blues guy, called Songs Of Mississippi John Hurt.
Morrissey didn’t learn how to sound like Hurt or Dylan. The old songs, he said, taught him how to write about his life in ways that were about life, not him. And that he did.
Folk Tales remembers Bill Morrissey, September 18 at 1pm.