I’m currently working on the biography of celebrated US folk musician and illustrator Michael Hurley. The 77 year-old’s tunes were first captured on acetate in 1964 by Frederic Ramsey Jr, on the same reel-to-reel he’d used to tape Lead Belly’s Last Sessions. Little did either of them realise that Michael’s First Songs would seed a remarkable oeuvre of records, which only continues to grow.
Snock has been notoriously resistant towards previous efforts to document his life, and I’m grateful he’s agreed to let me help share his story. He is also adamant the resulting book should be no larger than the old-style version of the Evergreen Review — small enough to “have a good plop” when thrown on a table — but with so many tantalising tales to tell we’ll see how that goes.
I just spent a couple of weeks at Michael’s home in Brownsmead Hill, Oregon: yarning, sifting through scrapbooks and being schooled as to the unparalleled genius of the likes of Irma Thomas and Lester Young. Other things he taught me include: how to drive the Snark, why Jocko really wears those sunglasses, and how to tie a bandanna hat. I taught him a few dance moves, how to retrieve downloaded photos from email.. and that’s about it.
Hurley’s music cannot be divorced from his visual art — he’s developed lifelong fixations and philosophies that shapeshift through both — and along with his memoirs the biography will include examples of the illustrations and comics he has been producing, again, since he was a little guy.
I first met Michael in New Zealand a few years ago, and in 2018 organised a well-received UK and Ireland tour. You can listen to a lot of his music online, but not all. Mississippi Records, Feeding Tube and snockonews.net are all good places to start if you’d like to dig deeper.
Michael’s songs have also been covered by a wide range of artists, including Cat Power, Yo La Tengo and Violent Femmes. Here’s Cat Power singing a Hurley classic, ‘Sweedeedee’: