Got the Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied (John Hurt)

This has always been one of my favorite John Hurt songs — it’s a murder ballad and a cheating song, in the best southern country tradition, but framed with a quietly philosophical fatalism that makes a striking contrast to the melodrama and violence of the central story.

I often teach this one as an example of Hurt’s brilliant way of getting around the guitar neck John Hurt— he played what sounded right to him, which sometimes meant holding the chords other people would hold,  but sometimes meant going his own way. This song has a more developed version of the same move he made in “Louis Collins,” taking the G chord that is the root of the song and moving it up two frets to get a high A note — which in this case means he is using the G shape, moved up to A, to play what for other people would be a C chord… that may sound confusing to non-guitarists, and even more confusing to guitarists, until you try it, at which point it sounds just fine, at least for “Got the Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied.”

This was another I learned early on from Donald Garwood’s book, but it was many years before I really appreciated it, or figured out how to play it properly, and more years before it got to feeling or sounding anything like comfortable. Hurt was a deceptively great guitarist, who made everything sound simple and pretty, thereby disguising how hard it is to do what he did. I have the basics, more or less, but the grace and tone of his playing are a whole nother thing.

It’s like the experience of watching Fred Astaire dance, and feeling like you can do that, too, because it’s so relaxed and friendly, and trying it yourself, and it works — just like flying in a dream. I’ve been working on this for over forty years, and I’ve learned a lot of things along the way and consider the time very well spent. But one of the things I keep learning, over and over, is that there never was, is, or will be anyone else who sounds like John Hurt.