Michael Hurley - Biography

Michael Hurley is an American folk blues singer, pianist and guitarist who was born on December 20, 1941, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His father was a producer of operettas. Hurley—also known as Snock, Snockman, Doc Snock or Elwood Snock—is famous for his idiosyncratic folk roots style with subtle touches of British balladry, as well as his simple and charming lyrical content. He is also an accomplished comic book artist and painter who designs the artwork for his own albums. Hurley’s music is renowned as being an artist’s artist—appreciated by many musicians, collectors and critics—but he has never garnering popular attention outside of these circles. Though oft-times overlooked as a hero of American music, Snock is one of the last living examples of the true American folk tradition and lifestyle.

After relocating to Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and a long bout with mononucleosis, Hurley’s debut album was First Songs (1964 Folkways), which he recorded after meeting jazz historian Frederick Ramsey III. It is believed that he recorded this album on the same recording device used to record Leadbelly’s famous last sessions. This album—which is centered on wine, vagabondage and slumming—is rare and commands top dollar from record dealers and collectors. Fortunately for Hurley fans, it has been reissued on CD as Blueberry Wine (2002 Locust).

Hurley’s next release was Armchair Boogie (1970 Raccoon/Warner Bros), which he recorded at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts. The Youngbloods’ Jesse Colin Young—a childhood friend of Hurley’s—helped to get it released on the Raccoon record label, which had a distribution deal through Warner Bros. Young himself acted as both producer and player on Armchair Boogie, and the album featured the song “The Werewolf,” which went on to be a cult hit. The song was so popular with musicians and songwriters that it’s been covered on several records, including Barry Dransfield’s a capella version on his first solo album in 1972. The Violent Femmes would also cover the song in 2001.

Hurley’s subsequent release, the album High Fi Snock Uptown (1972, Raccoon), was once again produced by Young. On it, Hurley tells a story about how he and his girlfriend were driving from New York to California to record the album, only to be stopped and harassed by state troopers. In vintage Hurley style, he sings of how they tried to pop him for possessing marijuana and for looking like a hippie, and how they didn’t find anything but some hooch. Shortly after this release, Raccoon Records would be forced out of business as Warner Brothers backed out of the deal.

Hurley later joined friends Jeffrey Frederick and Peter Stampfel of The Holy Modal Rounders, as well as Vermont band The Clamtones to record the album Have Moicy! (1976 Rounder) under the name Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders, Jeffrey Frederick and The Clamtones. This is possibly Hurley’s most lauded piece of work to date, proclaimed by many critics as the greatest folk rock record of the era. He soon followed this record with Long Journey (1977 Rounder), which was more of his signature twang.

Hurley’s next record was Snockgrass (1980 Rounder) and was followed by the first release on his new label, Blue Navigator (1984 Rooster). A fire destroyed the Rooster offices and thus ended Hurley’s affiliation there, but he returned with Watertower (1988 Fundamental Save) and ditties such as “Indian Chiefs & Hula Girls” were considered the same benign folk gold that his previous work demonstrated. His next official releases were Wolfways (1994 Veracity)—which was comprised of former works with heavy doses of banjo and fiddle—Parsnip Snips (1995 Veracity) and Bellemeade Sessions (1998, Blue Navigator), which had the classic titles like “$10.00 Gig” and “Ghost Woman Blues.” The next two Hurley albums were Weatherhole (1999 Field Recording) and Sweetkorn (2002 Trikont), the latter appearing on a German label with Hurley’s voice growing gruff with age. His latest albums are Down in Dublin (2004 Blue Navigator) and the rustic Ancestral Swamp (2007 Bellemeade Phonics), which has guest back-up vocals by Tara Jane O’Neil.

Hurley’s music was used in the movie The Holy Modal Rounders . . . Bound To Lose (2008 Cav Entertainment), and he continues to travel and play concerts for the small circles of ardent followers. His song “Hog of the Forsaken” can be heard in the HBO western series, Deadwood. An icon of the multiple generations of musicians who unearth his material, Hurley’s songs—songs where the beauty belongs to the ear of the listener—have been covered by artists including Tara Jane O’Neil, Dransfield, Espers and Cat Power.

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