Back in 2000, Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) released versions of two Michael Hurley songs on her Covers Album, but even today few people know enough about the man to realize just how hip her selections were. Hurley's a genuine 1960s outsider and cult hero, one of the only fabulous grizzled freaks with a flag still flying--the most eccentric exponent of the most eccentric wing of eccentric folk music. As a teenager in the late 50s Hurley began what has turned out to be a lifetime of itinerancy, living out of vans or sleeping on floors, stopping in Greenwich Village, Mexico, or New Orleans, and all the while writing weird little ditties about protein monsters, English gentlemen, and a mysterious creature called "the Hog of the Forsaken." In '64 he recorded his debut, First Songs, for Folkways; "The Werewolf Song," a strange but touching love song from the monster's point of view, is still a crowd favorite ("Nobody, nobody, nobody knows / How much I love the maid as I tear off her clothes"). Utterly unkempt and original, Hurley sings in a crooked, unsteady voice, and never tries too hard to keep it from breaking. He plays fiddle, banjo, and piano, but most often he'll pick out his quirky countermelodies--or simply strum--on a hollow-body Gibson guitar. His unmistakable cartoons and paintings adorn nearly all his records, and characters from his visual art--the dogs Boone and Jocko, the anthropomorphized musical notes he calls Cool Ass Grooves--inhabit many of his songs. He's also an honorary member of the Holy Modal Rounders, a loose lineup of wackos updating the rough-and-tumble psychedelic folk tradition; in '75 the Rounders recorded their greatest album, Have Moicy!, with Hurley at the helm. His two best LPs under his own name, Armchair Boogie and Hi Fi Snock Uptown (both released on Jesse Colin Young's Warner Brothers subsidiary Raccoon in the early 70s), are long out of print and yet to be reissued on CD--though Hurley sometimes has cassette dubs for sale at shows. He's also put out a lot of fine new material in the past decade, most notably on Wolf Ways (Koch), Bellemeade Sessions (Blue Navigator), and Weatherhole (Field Recording Co.). To top it off, the local label Locust has just reissued First Songs under the title Blueberry Wine. Though Hurley currently maintains an address in Portland, Oregon, the 61-year-old is still a drifter, and still as odd and brilliant as ever; he'll be playing unaccompanied at this show. Thursday, July 11, 8:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia; 773-227-4433.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jeff Valentine.