Learn to Play: Mississippi John Hurt's "Candy Man" on Guitar

John Smith Hurt—better known as Mississippi John Hurt—taught himself to play the guitar at just nine years old. Working as a sharecropper, he started playing at local dances and parties, leading him to recording some music for Okeh Records in 1928. Unfortunately, the recordings were commercial failures, and Mississippi John Hurt continued to work as a farmer.

But with the onset of the American folk music revival in the '60s, Mississippi John Hurt was rediscovered alongside many of his blues contemporaries as well. He was recorded by the Library of Congress in 1964 and continued to perform around D.C. on university campuses and at coffeehouses before moving back to Mississippi in 1965, where he died the following year.

In the video above, Reverb's Joe Shadid picks apart "Candy Man"—a beautiful song that showcases Mississippi John Hurt's fingerpicking style. The song is built upon a I-V progression in the key of A that Hurt plays with his thumb. This is the first part the song that you should try and master. Though Joe's personal preference is to play without one, Hurt was known to use a thumb pick, which might be a helpful tool for you too.

From there, Joe moves into the heart of the song, breaking down each figure and demonstrating how it's played. Be sure to grab your guitar to follow along, and let us know what you thought of the lesson in the comments below.


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