Perfect Sound Forever


by Frank van den Elzen and Leslie Gaffney
(courtesy of Popwatch Magazine)

Q: Are you still doing the Boone and Jocko, and Uncle Gaspard comics?

HURLEY: Boone and Jocko and Uncle Gaspard were inspired by collie dogs we had at the Mission Farm where I spent some of my younger days. The collies were originally named Boone and Count. Count had only one good eye-his right. In the cartoon, Jocko, who plays the part of Count, wears horse blinders to keep him from seeing the sights and going wild, as with horses. We raised horses, but those dogs were my best friends. When I came home from school I would wrestle with them. Boone had a bad habit of getting into the garbage pail in the kitchen and he would strew the garbage all over the kitchen floor. In the morning we found him on his back in the middle of the kitchen floor, the garbage all around him. My brother, Brian, and I, and Toby Mack, thought this was so funny. We made up stories based on real adventures and turned them into pure fantasy. The first Boontoon shows Boone with his head in that garbage pail. I still have it. In our legends we had it that Boone had a cannon and a bunch of shot and powder mounted up in the haybarn. Boone was eventually killed by Hendricks, our neighbor, who lost patience with Boone eating out of his garbage can. When my girlfriend, Andy Behr, noticed my grief, she said it was the first time she saw me reveal any human emotions, but the boys in our tribe had been trained not to weep and we actually spent a lot of time away on the warpath. I still go occasionally on the warpath, but these days we call that a crimewave. But it was women the reason for all us to lay aside the weapons of war and learn the civil arts. If you will obey women, you will be happy. As long as the women you obey are smart enough. Which is why I stopped heisting produce off of trains.

I am still doing Tales of Boone and Jocko; #5 may make it out this year before we hear the bells of '98. It will be mostly composed of earlier comic stories I have done about them. Their main gig these days is to appear in my watercolor paintings.

Way back in Alabama where I was livin' on the farm;
I had an old black dog and he never did no harm;
My neighbor shot my dog just for raidin' trash;
I never looked in my neighbor's face but a shotgun is so brash.
Way down in Mexico where they was livin' off the land;
The people go with God and they try to understand;
You don't kill nobody if it's just for a dog;
Somebody stole ol' Osceola and I went for my pistola;
Way up in old Vermont where they call you Varmiteer;
The warden shot my dog;
The dog was runnin' deer;
I never saw no warden never looked in no warden's eyes;
He disposed of the body...couldn't stop my cryin' eyes.

Q: The wolf is an important symbol in your music; your first and your last album, and almost every other album in between, contains the song "Werewolf." How come? Did the "Werewolf" song change over time? What is your favorite rendition?

HURLEY: I don't have a favorite of my recorded "Werewolf" versions, although the unreleased outtake of me and Mr. Remaily playing it for the Raccoon label is hotter than a pet coon.

The werewolf was a gentleman who was a helpful influence. He showed me that there were others,who would never fit in. It seemed that once that snout and facial hair and pointed ears appeared, there wasn't really a realistic chance that the guy would ever be able to have a lovely wife and a good home. But we know the werewolf in my cartoons are actually based on collie dogs.

Q: In the earliest of the 70s, the Youngbloods and their Warner-sponsored imprint Raccoon released two of your albums and the Youngbloods played on them as well. How did this all come together?

HURLEY: Jesse Colin Young and his Youngblood was a guy from Bucks County. We all lived together in a frame house one time in Point Pleasant, PA. When he had a hit with "Get Together," he got me on the Raccoon/Warner Bros. label for two albums. Raccoon was supposed to be the Youngbloods' label to do with what they wanted to do and they released 15 or so albums before WB realized how noncommercial it was and shut Raccoon down. If they hadn't shut Raccoon down when they did, I would have made a third WB/Raccoon record, designed to be the punch line deliverer of the trilogy, the conclusion; but WB struck out.

Q: Are there any plans for reissuing the Raccoon and Folkways LPs?

HURLEY: Yes, at this time one can have a CD of the Folkways album, First Songs, or a cassette made by the Smithsonian Folkways people. It even includes the outtake; "You Know Friggin' Well, Your Home Is in Hell" on it, and I am really glad to see this tune finally get out.

The two Raccoon records, Armchair Boogie and Hi Fi Snock Uptown, are to be released in summer '98 on my own little label, Bellemeade Phonics. These will be available on CD for the first time and have two outtakes on them: the long-suppressed "Your Dick Is Hanging Out of Your Pants," and the poignant "Your Monkey Pissed In My Beer." The Youngbloods, who supervised these productions some quarter of a century ago, did not want to release these tunes. But now it's all my property and I'm going to release it all.

Q: Although it's not a real Michael Hurley album, Have Moicy is probably the album most people know you from. Please tell us more about this collaboration and how you feel about this one now, especially in regard to how much it's heralded. (I had told Michael that it amazed me that Rolling Stone had picked Have Moicy as one of the best albums of the '70's while I rated his solo albums higher.-Frank)

You probably just don't have the software to know how good I feel about the Have Moicy release. So many people have told me that they love it, it changed their life, it turned them on to old-time asskickin' hillbilly, it lead them to a superior love life, it brought them much wealth and still remains a favorite after 20 years or 10. Everytime I listen to it, it sounds more together; it sounds like a bunch of loonies too.

Q: Your music comes across as from someone for whom establishing harmony with his direct surroundings is more important than success or the rat race-is that right?

HURLEY: That is exactly right. Most of the years of my so-called career I did not perceive any career. But now I do see a career going on and I'm still trying in the eye of the storm to sleep in a peaceful nook, like taking a rest on the crescent moon a pale yellow and the stars about throwing long needles of crystal light in the purple-gray heavens where we'll drift around and around the world and even view Memphis, Tennessee, fall so close over your roof that I can just reach out and snatch your underwear off of your clothesline, throw it here and there in front of your house, your pajamas too.

Q: Can you tell us more about your songwriting: how do songs come to you? do you write tons of them and keep the good ones, or is it a slow process?

HURLEY: A recent piece of music I've composed was for the fiddle. I was layin' in bed supposed to have gone to sleep. Thoughts running thru my mind. I was thinking about the people I'd been hanging out with in Ohio, Kentucky. I recalled them saying Danielle played the fiddle, could play "Cluck Old Hen." I once usetacould play that one. I tried to review the rune in my mind. Was that all there was to it? Wasn't there a bridge? No, there wasn't no bridge. Not much of a tune I guess. Should have a bridge. Bridges start runnin' thru my heart. Hey! I get up. Turn on the light. Fiddle up this bridge. Got it on tape. Would have gone to sleep and forgotten it if it had not been that I had the opportunity to record that night. Another one before that; I'm just drooling at the guitar with the moose...disrelated thoughts...I'm not thinking about what my hands are doing. In the succession of my logics: "I stole the right to live, as if there was no time." Lyrically and musically this all flowed right easily. I was performing it the next day.

Another time I'm over at a place where the mosquitoes punch in when the flies punch out and everytime there's a story I have to tell some rugrat gives a bloody yell. The cats are leaping on the table. I'm thinking, "Is this really Hell?" I write a bunch of lyrics about it. It is about the domestic life of rugrat farmers in the Unified Stations; these are my friends. If they can put up with the rugrats and kittycats, some of them can put up with me. It's kinda like the human condition. Speaking of which, just give me an old fried haddock giant fillet with mashed potatoes, string beans, tea, cornbread or muffins, apple pie and some candy. You see, a lot of people, if they don't have rugrats, kinda figure there's no reason for them to really eat. It's mostly the rugrats reminding us about the vittle program, which is funny because they don't want to eat anything but sugar.

Q: Your last album 1996's Parsnips Snips was a collection of old home recordings-is there still a lot of this type of stuff laying around (and is this the material that's on the tapes you sell at shows)? Did the two fan clubs mentioned on the back cover have anything to do with the release?

HURLEY: Parsnips Snips is indeed a collection of old home recordings and I do have bunches more, although I believe another album of it would not stack up to Parsnips Snips. It is not the tapes I sell at shows which are more recent recordings and live recordings. The fan clubs did not have anything to do with the release. It was put out on German Veracity Records and Peter Schneider has a big pile of them, but if you call him up he won't send you one. The best way to get it is order the tape from Bellemeade Phonics. That will get you the tape, but it is too bad you'll never get the vinyl. Har har har!

Q: Have you done a lot of touring? Apart from last year's tour of Germany, did you tour abroad much?

HURLEY: I do a lot of touring, mostly from Charlottes-ville, North Carolina to New York City, with Richmond, VA, Boston, Mass., Chicago, Ill., Columbus, OH, Rochester, NY, Buffalo, NY, and more points are being added to my circuit from time to time. Two tours of Germany and one tour of Ireland has gotten me over the sea in planes a few times and I really love to be in a foreign land and hope for more such activity.

Q: Any good tour stories? Or do you prefer to stay home and perform in the wet lounge around the corner every once in a while?

HURLEY: Bob Jordan booked up a pretty arduous tour for me which for the first gig had Morgantown, WVA. Then, with 20 gigs in 23 days, we rambled NC, SC, MS, GA, LA, VA, PA, NYC, and MA. Never before had we embarked on such a campaign. We were playin' the gigs as a trio with Fiddlin' Slim, Bob Jordan, and myself singing my repertoire and purveying in my style, the baroque blues. So, due to the big bang-a-lang schedule, we were extremely exhausted right from the first few days because some of the point-to-point connections were probably 800 miles. At first it had seemed that food itself just didn't do us any good anymore. Our rest was never enough. But Fiddlin' Slim had built a living room into the interior of his van. On the way from New Orleans to Baton Rouge we made one of these shopping plaza stops along the highway. When I went back into the van, Bob was in the back bunk writing his memoirs. Then Slim came in and he asked where Bob was. I said he was in the back. And we took off. It was just after dark. Eventually, we noticed a couple of trucks passing us and gesturing out the window as they did. Slim gestured back at them and retorted. And they seemed to be in a hurry to get around us, taking risks. Slim began to address jocular remarks to the back, trying to get Bob to say something. Bob wasn't there and the back doors were flapping; grapefruits, condiments, cereals, drugs, memoirs were bombarding the vehicles on our rear. We had to go back and find Bob. He had gotten out of the van again after he had got in and he had gone to McDonald's to get a coke. No big deal, but a few days before we had done the distribution thru the open back doors while wandering thru the French quarter and had begun to find it difficult to keep groceries and personnel aboard. That is because Bob had begun to habituate the bed area by the back doors. He rarely even buckled his belt or tied his shoes so how could we expect him to close the doors?

Slim always would say, "look at this, look at that." So I told him, "You look at what you want to look at and I'll look at what I want to look at." So he bent over, head to knee, to gain a better view of my dick. Bob cackled in the back.

Q: Is that you duetting with a cornet on the song "Penguins" (from Armchair Boogie) and providing the trumpety sounds on "Give Me the Cure" (Parsnip Snips)?

HURLEY: The two horn sounds on "Penquins" from Armchair Boogie is me doing the mock trumpet and Michael Kane actually on cornet. He was seated across the room from me, more distant from the mike used, so that the cornet and the mock trumpet's volume levels were balanced. On Hi Fi Snock Uptown, I did an overdub mock track to go with the first one on the tune, "Lilly Pads Upon the Pond." There's a lot of this sort of overdubbing on The Woodbill Brothers (cassette-only Bellemeade Phonics). Still more on "The Rue of Ruby Whores" on my newly recorded album.

Q: Did "the big fat royalty check in the sky" Van Morrison was singing about in his Bang years ever fall on your doorstep? In other words, have you ever been able to live off of your music, or is the music biz really as rotten as everybody says it is?

HURLEY: The Songbird, as the Bucks County Boys refer to JC Young, put Your Lovin' Hobo on one of his records, which was his first flop album notwithstanding the company of the hobo. The Songbird had hoped the royalties would buy me a small produce farm in northwest Pennsylvania, but all it did was get me to Texas in a Ô54 Chevy. Still it was more money than I'd ever spent like water before.

Q: Do you still have a serious 8-track addiction?

HURLEY: I still have an 8-track player in my van, but I don't go after the cartridges too much. It seems that the cartridges come after me more than I go after them. I'll select a dozen carts before a trip. There are many more than that for the cassette player. When the am and fm begin to pall and I've heard enough of the tracks and the cassettes, I'll listen to the truckers on CB. This year I've written and illustrated an article for 8-Track Mind, altho' I've not submitted it yet. It deals with cartridge repair.

Q: You are pro homegrown. Do you think we'll ever see Cannabis sativa legalized?

HURLEY: I believe we could see cannabinoids refined and marketed in drug stores with a big federal tax, like alcohol.

Q: Which of your contemporaries can you (still) relate to?

HURLEY: Stampfel and Weber, and Dave Reisch of the Holy Modal Rounders, Son Volt from St. Louis, Missouri, Six String Drag from Raliegh, NC, Dirtball and Used Carlotta from Richmond, VA, Rebby Sharp and The Uncomfortable Hunk of Metal String Band from Whitehall, VA, Coby Batty, youngest member of the Fugs who now writes a regular column in The Snocko News, The Dysfunctionelles from Chicago, The Colorblind James Experience from Rochester, Greg Townson in Rochester, Mickey Bones and his five bands in the Cambridge, MA area, including Spitwhistle, Bob Jordan of Worcester, MA, The Lemonlillies in Portsmouth, Ohio, Loudon Wainwright in NYC last I knew. Robin Remaily, once a Rounder always a bounder. Nixi Divine in Charlottesville, NC, Peter Stampfel in NYC, Victoria Williams from Joshua Tree, CA, Kevin Maul who plays with Robin and Linda Williams, Golden Delicious, Stephan Smith, Calexico in Tucson. Don't feel slighted if we missed your name.

Q: Do you follow what is happening in music these days and are there more recent artists whose work you appreciate?

HURLEY: O hell yes. Patty Loveless is my favorite female singer. But there are so many: Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, Akito Ayano, Pam Tillis, The Kendalls, The Whites.

A band here in Somerville, The Sunburned Hand of Man, is playing some unusual stuff which takes a departure point from poprock as we had known it. It may catch on big in the year 2000. I don't think they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how Flat and Scruggs do the moonwalk, which is what I study, but they try to be nice in other ways, ways which people traditionally haven't tried to be nice in before, so, what I see coming up is a market for this.

I listen to a lot of classical too, but I couldn't tell you what it is other than Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy, Erik Satie, and Charles Ives. My favorite radio source for classical is CBC 740 am.

Q: What are the plans for the future? What can you tell us about the album you're recording?

HURLEY: I plan to keep on doing albums that reflect my devotion to country and western of all ages. As Merle Travis wrote, "the ages shall roll" (6).

The album I am doing now, and it's almost completed, is a good one. It has some of my best recent songs and I've had some excellent assistance from Paul Watson, bass, cornet; George Lowe, engineering, guitar, bass clarinette; Johnny Hatt, drums, percussion, washboard, Jew's harp; Kevin Maul, dobro, lap steel; and Nixi Divine, vocal harmony.

Q: Any famous last words?

Point of reference: "Don't stand around lookin' cute, and on the bum" (7).

Phrases out of hit songs numbered throughout the interview:

(1) "Don't feel slighted if we missed your name," from "Boppin' at the Record Store" (Slim Gaillard)

(2) "The nice night life type," from "Midnite Rounder" (Mr. Hurley)

(3) "I found a new place to dwell," from "Heartbreak Hotel" (May Axton)

(4) "By the highway side," from "Hoot Owls" (Mr. Hurley)

(5) "We don't smoke marijuana," from "Okie from Muscogee" (Merle Haggard)

(6) "The ages shall roll," from "Dark as a Dungeon" (Merle Travis)

(7) "Don't stand around lookin' cute and on the bum," from "Let Your Money Speak" (Kokomo Arnold)

What folks have said about Snock

"Trusting in his own peculiarities, Hurley makes the world spin just a little bit slower, and a little bit bumpier. Somehow it feels much more natural that way." Jim Macnie

"Michael Hurley is the last unreconstructed folkie-shaman in America. His songs are primordial tales of the hunt for good cheer and satisfying sex, etched like cave paintings on city walls and farmland silos. Like many characters in his songs, his voice seems to have been run over by the dump truck of life, but it marries human mystery to forthright music like no other." Milo Miles

"Somehow, thinking of Hurley, I find myself thinking also of Samuel Beckett. Now I don't see Hurley having much truck with the modernist strain of 20th Century art, and, as a high school dropout, he would probably be nauseated by the gasbag spewings of the ivory tower intellectual. A true and deliberate neo-primitive, his inspiration springs from nature, the rural blues and the lure of remote hills and woodlands, landscapes that loom in the backgrounds of his comics like vast parabolic gumdrops." Vernon Tonges

"Michael once told me about one of his favorite childhood games. He would get an empty sodapop bottle, fill it with water, pretending it was wine. Next, he would go to a tree in the woods, pretending it was a lamp post on the Bowery in New York City, and that he was a Bowery Bum. Then he would drink the bottle of pretend wine sitting down with his back against the tree/lamp post, pretending to get drunk, and just sit there for the rest of the day. Ah, youth." Peter Stampfel


First Songs (Folkways) 1965 LP/1997 CDR
Armchair Boogie (Raccoon) 1971 LP
Hi Fi Snock Uptown (Raccoon) 1972 LP
Have Moicy (Rounder) 1975 LP/1992 CD with the Unholy Modal Rounders, and Jeffrey Fredericks & the Clamtones
Long Journey (Rounder) 1976 LP
Snockgrass (Rounder) 1980 LP/1997 CD
Blue Navigator (Rooster) 1984 LP
Watertower (Fundamental) 1988 LP
Land of Lo Fi & Redbirds (Bellemeade Phonics) 1988
Excrusiasion '86 (Bellemeade Phonics) 1988 Cass.
Growlin' Bobo (Bellemeade Phonics) 1991 Cass.
Woodbill Brothers (Bellemeade Phonics) 1992 Cass.
"Wildegeeses"/"Coloured Birds" (SOL) 1992 7"
"National Weed Growers Association"/"Slippery Rag" (Carnage Press) 1993 7"
Wolfways (Koch/Veracity) 1994 CD
Parsnips Snips (Veracity) 1996 LP

Illustration by Michael Hurley

In accordance with the motto "If I did the album I'll do the cassette," all albums are available on Bellemeade Phonic from Hurley direct. You just have to wait till the Snock rolls into your town; then you'll also have the opportunity to pick up Michael's Tales of Boone and Jocko comics or buy an original Hurley Painting.

For the fanatic there's also a highly informative Michael Hurley fanzine from Ireland called Blue Navigator that features interviews and essays by, on, from, and with the Snock's compatriots and people from his circle of friends. The Blue Navigator also reprints older articles on Michael Hurley. Blue Navigator: 22 South Great Georges Street, Dublin 2, Ireland