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I would like to clarify a glaring mistake in your article on Max Ochs and the rediscovery of Mississippi John Hurt in 1963 (“Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” 12/9). It was Tom Hoskins (known to his Washington, D.C., friends as Fang) who went looking for and found Hurt in Mississippi. It was also Fang who figured out that the town of Avalon, which was not on any current map of that state, might be on an old map. When he found it in an old atlas, he jumped in a car with his underage girlfriend and made the trip. Mike Stewart went with Fang on a subsequent trip to bring Hurt back to D.C., but it was Fang who found him and managed his career until Hurt died in 1966. Among my sources are Time magazine, the New York Times, and, interestingly, your own newspaper, in a cover story in November 1994 (“Skip James’ Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” 11/25/94).
Owner, Joe’s Record Paradise
The City Paper responds:
Max Ochs, the All Music Guide to the Blues: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Blues Recordings, and the Mississippi John Hurt biography on the Web site of Vanguard Records, one of the labels that released Hurt’s music soon after his rediscovery, all credit Mike Stewart with traveling to Avalon, Miss., to find out whether Hurt was still alive. According to Vanguard:
[I]n 1963, two folkies in Washington, D.C., Tom Hoskins and Mike Stewart, got a tape from record collector Dick Spottswood with some new material to learn on it. As always, it was frustrating stuff, and the two had given some thought to going to Mississippi to see if they could locate any of these musicians and maybe press them for lessons. What galvanized their intentions was hearing Hurt’s “Avalon Blues” for the first time….They got out a map of Mississippi, but there was no Avalon there. Undaunted, they went looking for older maps, until, in an atlas from 1878, they found evidence of a tiny town by that name between Greenwood and Grenada, in the heart of blues country. Packing some clothes, a tape recorder, and their doubts in a car, they headed south.