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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.
September 4, it’s B.B. King, including why he didn’t like being called the King Of the Blues and said that being a bluesman was like being black twice. Also, the roots of bluegrass and the Waltham typewriter repairman who proved you don’t have to be from Dixie to pick’n’grin with the best.
September 11, Folk Tales tells the two stories behind the 1958 revival-igniting Kinston Trio hit “Tom Dooley,” one about an 1860s murder, the other about the troubled trail an old folk ballad took to the top of the pop charts. Also, the blues classic that inspired a postage stamp, Broadway musical, Walt Disney cartoon, Aaron Copland composition, alt-rock album, and comic-book super-hero. And why Johnny Cash said, “We didn’t work to get that boom-chicka-boom sound––it’s all we could play.”
September 25, Folk Tales hangs with those sassy Boston bluegrassers, The Charles River Valley Boys, who revolutionized bluegrass despite boasting on their first album that they could all play in the same key––but only sometimes. We also remember the old bluesman Morrissey and Dylan studied so hard, Mississippi John Hurt, and the wrenching reason he told the white man who rediscovered him in 1963 that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Months later, a startled 71 year-old Hurt was headlining the Newport Folk Festival.
As summer slips into fall, I hope you can visit us at the Folk Tales Corral, Saturdays at noon Eastern, and Sundays at 7 PM. Until then, carry it on.
~ Scott Alarik