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Hurley's debut album, First Songs, was recorded for Folkways Records in 1964 on the same reel-to-reel machine that taped Lead Belly's Last Sessions. He was discovered by blues and jazz historian Frederick Ramsey III, and subsequently championed by boyhood friend Jesse Colin Young, who released his 2nd & 3rd albums on The Youngbloods' Warner Bros. imprint, Raccoon. In the late 1970s, Hurley made three albums for Rounder, all of which have since been reissued on CD. His 1976 LP Have Moicy!, a collaboration with the Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & The Clamtones, was named "the greatest folk album of the rock era" by The Village Voice's Robert Christgau.
In 1996, Koch Records released Wolfways with Hurley backed by Mickey Bones on drums. Tours with Son Volt and high praise from younger performers like Lucinda Williams, Vic Chesnutt, Woods, Calexico, Cat Power, Julian Lynch, and Robin Holcomb followed.
In 2001, Locust Music reissued Hurley's debut under the new title Blueberry Wine with new artwork contributed by Hurley.
Gnomonsong released a new Michael Hurley album titled Ancestral Swamp on September 18, 2007. Backing was provided by longtime Hurley associate David Reisch of the Holy Modal Rounders and new friends Tara Jane O'Neil and Lewi Longmire.
In 2010, Secret Seven Records (San Francisco) and Mississippi Records (Portland) teamed up to reissue 100 copies of Hurley's rarest album "Blue Navigator" on 8-track tape.
In 2011, Hurley's first book of lyrics was released by the Quebec book publisher L'Oie de Cravan. It contains the original English lyrics to 19 of his songs calligraphed by the author, a foreword by critic Byron Coley and a French version by Marie Frankland, winner of the 2007 John-Glassco prize for translation.
Hurley has done much of the artwork for his own albums. Two oft-featured cartoon werewolves, Jocko and Boone, have been something of a theme across Hurley's musical career, even appearing in their own comics. Both are based on dogs that Hurley owned.
Hurley resides in Astoria, Oregon.
Michael Hurley has three children with a girlfriend whom he called "Pasta". , two sons, Jordan and Colorado, and a daughter, Daffodil, a singer/songwriter who performs as "Glitter Oh Dazzle." With another girlfriend, Kim, he shares a son, Rollin. He shares a daughter, Wilder Mountain Honey, with a girlfriend, Annie.