‘Coffee Blues’ – Learn How to Play a Mississippi John Hurt Classic

This is one of Mississippi John Hurt's signature songs, and contains the innuendo-rich lyric "lovin' spoonful."

One of Mississippi John Hurt’s signature songs, “Coffee Blues,” contains the innuendo-rich lyric “lovin’ spoonful,” which inspired the name of the American rock band. The tune also serves as an excellent introduction to the eight-bar blues, a truncated variation of the more common 12-bar form.

Mississippi John Hurt played the song in A major (though he sometimes tuned down the guitar, as he did in a 1963 recording by Tom Hoskins on the Rounder label). In A, the eight-bar form goes like this: D7 (IV), A7 (I), E7 (V), and A7 (I), two measures per chord.


Throughout “Coffee Blues,” Mississippi John Hurt plays variations on the eight-bar pattern shown here in notation, meaning that once you can play it you’ve essentially learned the entire song. The music should be straightforward enough: pick the down-stemmed notes with your thumb or thumbpick and the up-stemmed ones with your other fingers (or fingerpicks). Hybrid picking—a flatpick and fingers—could work as well. Whichever approach you choose, make sure to play with a driving quarter-note feel on the bass notes.

As for the fretting hand, to help get Hurt’s relaxed feel, remember to hold down each chord shape for as long as possible….

The text above is excerpted from Adam Perlmutter’s analysis of “Coffee Blues,” which originally appeared in Acoustic Guitar’s July 2018 issue. For the full text of the article, performance notes, and music notation and tab, head to the Acoustic Guitar Store and pick up a copy.

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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