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Michael Hurley

Born December 20, 1941, Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, MICHAEL HURLEY has stretched traditional old-timey Appalachian country-folk music into somewhat subversive cult avant-garde. A plucky guitarist from the age of 13, his y’all country-styled yodel burst on to the Greenwich Village scene in the early 60s, although a combination of mononucleosis and hepatitis curtailed him for a few years while he recuperated in Bellevue hospital.
Released on Folkways Records, his much-delayed debut LP, FIRST SONGS (1965) {*6}, revealed his penchant for hillbilly music and eccentric subject matters, examples being `I Like My Wine’, `Just A Bum’, the 7-minute `The Tea Song’, `Captain Kidd’ (featuring fiddler friend, Robin Remaily) and `The Werewolf Song’ (a song, like many, procured by The HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS).
Another to profess their love of HURLEY through utilising his songs, The YOUNGBLOODS (and their newfound Raccoon imprint) enticed the long-lost minstrel back into the studio for two quick-fire LPs, ARMCHAIR BOOGIE (1971) {*6} and HI FI SNOCK UPTOWN (1972) {*7}, complete with his own sleeve artwork. From the former idiosyncratic set, one could hear the HMR influence via `English Noblemen’, `Jocko’s Lament’, `Get The Best Of Me’ and `Penguins’, while the latter sat two covers (Fats Domino’s `The Girl I Love’ and Bill Cheatham’s `Blue Driver’) next to a dozen HURLEY originals like `Water Train’, `Twilight Zone’ and `Lilly Pads Upon The Pond’.
Yet another lengthy hiatus was overturned with the release of HAVE MOICY! (1976) {*9}, a shared collaboration with The UNHOLY MODAL ROUNDERS (without Steve Weber) plus Jeffrey Fredericks & The Clamtones – yes, all nine members assembled by Rounder Records. Concentrating on star appearances from HURLEY, there could be none more way-out than `Slurf Song’, `Sweet Lucy’ and `Fooey Fooey’.
Solo comeback LONG JOURNEY (1977) {*8} was equally impressive, this was certainly a peak creative country-folk period for Michael who was on a high via `Hog Of The Forsaken’, `Panama Hat’, `The 8-Ball Café’ and `Reconciled To The Blues’. SNOCKGRASS (1980) {*8} continued the run of fine albums, an at times funny and tongue-in-cheek country-styled LP that highlighted greats like `Tia Marie’, `O My Stars’, `Watchin’ The Show’ and `Goin’ To Florida’.
Dismissing the odd and quite rare BLUE NAVIGATOR (1984) {*4}, and now living in rural Vermont, HURLEY completed a set for Fundamental Records, WATERTOWER (1988) {*5}, not exactly everyone’s cup of tea and sadly his last proper set for some time.
Only releasing cassettes (and a few singles) for the following seven years, Dock Snock (as he was referred to at times) delivered some re-recordings under the guise of WOLFWAYS (1994) {*6}, a set initially only issued in Germany; check out revamps of `Werewolf’, `Hog…’, `The Portland Water’ and `I Paint A Design’.
After tours supporting long-time fans SON VOLT, BELLEMEADE SESSIONS (1998) {*6}, WEATHERHOLE (1999) {*5} and SWEETKORN (2002) {*5} needed some special attention for their quirky diversions, the latter featuring trad cue, `Barbara Allen’, TOM T. HALL’s `Negatory Romance’, and the CONWAY TWITTY nugget `Mona Lisa’.
Augmented by excellent guitars of Dave Reisch (Golden Delicious and The HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS) and Thurstan Binns, DOWN IN DUBLIN (2006) {*6} was a hotchpotch of various oldies, `Slurf Song’, `Whiskey Willy’, plus staples such as `Have I Told You Lately’, `Rough And Rocky’, `Gooseball Brown’ and TOWNES VAN ZANDT’s `Pancho And Lefty’.
Finding refuge at ‘Frisco-based Gnomonsong Records, ANCESTRAL SWAMP (2007) {*7} was HURLEY’s best efforts for some time. Adding vocals from producer Tara Jane O’Neil (ex-RODAN, The GRIFTERS and The SONORA PINES), the guitarist’s back-porch, Delta-blues and hillbilly style was melded on the TOM WAITS-esque `Dying Crapshooter’s Blues’, `Lonesome Graveyard’, `Gambling Charlie’ and `El Dorado’.
Forty-five years since his debut set, HURLEY had lost none of his weird touches on `I Stole The Right To Live’, `Hoot Owls’ and `Hog Of The Forsaken’ (again!) from IDA CON SNOCK (2009) {*6}, although maybe his medley rendition of `Loch Lomond’ and `Molly Malone’ was stretching his eccentricity and boundaries an elastic band too far. For fans/music buyers, watch out, there’s a completely different Michael Hurley about, his C&W-styled `Hazel River’ was issued in 2009.
The real HURLEY, meanwhile, has been behind a handful of fresh, limited-edition vinyl-only sets: BLUE HILLS (2010) {*6}, FATBOY SPRING (2011) {*6}, BACK HOME WITH DRIFTING WOODS (2013) {*6} and LAND OF LOFI (2013) {*6}.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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