Not every great musician is in the goddamn Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Some take the quiet path, away from the screaming fans, cocaine, cream cheese orgies, mansions in Key West – and finally, at age 72, the secluded life in LA with a blonde spouse and a bouncy 8 year old son. That second path, the quiet path, leads to… the Bearsville Theatre this Sunday, where you may see the legendary Michael Hurley.
Born in 1941, Michael was part of the Greenwich Village folk boom of the early 60s, and released his debut, First Songs, on Folkways Records in 1965. (It was recorded on the same reel-to-reel machine that taped Lead Belly’s Last Sessions.) But after the record was out, Michael didn’t tour to promote it. Instead, he went to Mexico. Since then, he’s lived in many places, often small towns; his current residence is Astoria, Oregon. Here are some songs for you to find on YouTube: “Polinesia,” “Werewolf,” “Light Green Fellow.”
Hurley’s songs have the naïve simplicity of Jonathan Richman and Neil Young, but another element: the looseness and variegated rhythms of a man who’s listened closely to Ornette Coleman. Not only that, but Hurley is probably the greatest living mouth trumpet player.
That is to say, he blows through his closed lips to imitate a trumpet. Hearing this on a record brings up the absurd image of a guy simultaneously playing a guitar & horn (maybe strumming chords with his feet?).
Here are some lyrics to “The Tea Song”:
Bring out the cups and honey too;
Turn on the tea and let it brew.
I don't care that she's left me;
Just so long as the cupboard's full of tea.
Poor old Buddha turned into stone;
That's why I drink tea alone.