‘Always had a warm place in my heart’: A lost blues legend directly impacted early Hall and Oates albums

John Oates says a legendary Mississippi Delta bluesman who first rose to fame in the late 1920s ended up having a direct impact on the initial recordings by Hall and Oates.

Seems when Oates was just starting out in music, he met Jerry Ricks — a guitarist and teacher who had toured with Delta legends like Son House and Mississippi John Hurt. Ricks took the young Oates to several of the Philadelphia folk venues to see performers like Hurt, the Reverand Gary Davis and Doc Watson, and eventually Oates even got a chance to sit in with a few of them.

By the time Oates had that fortuitous meeting with future Hall of Fame partner Daryl Hall at Temple University, he had developed a deep-seated affection for these deep-roots sounds — and he’d carry along something with an even closer connection once Hall and Oates began recording their 1972 debut Whole Oats and the 1973 platinum-selling follow up Abandoned Luncheonette. Oates has Ricks to thank for that, too.

“I was a big fan of Mississippi John Hurt,” Oates tells WUWF, “and a lot of the Delta bluesmen when they were rediscovered back in the ’60s. I got an opportunity to actually hang out with him — and I played Mississippi John Hurt’s guitar on the first two Hall and Oates albums. After he passed away, the guitar was given to a very good friend of mine who had traveled with him, and he lent it to me. I always had a warm place in my heart for Mississippi John Hurt.”

Hurt, who had a lightning-quick, syncopated picking style, rose to belated fame when a couple of his songs (including “Frankie“) were included on 1952’s Anthology of American Folk Music. He had originally recorded those songs, along with a memorable version of “Stack O’ Lee,” during a late-1920s stint on OKeh — but then disappeared for decades. After his reemergence, Hurt appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, while recording a trio of comeback albums for Vanguard before dying in the late 1960s.

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