Tuesday, October 18, 2005:

Son House

Son House -- Walking Blues
Son House -- Empire State Express
Son House -- Grinnin' in Your Face
Son House is one of those artists I was surprised to find I hadn't posted yet. He was a bluesman active from the 1930s to the early 1970s, and was very influential on the course of Delta Blues. He was raised Southern Baptist and spent his early life as a preacher (making the rancorous "Preachin' Blues," from his 1960s recordings, all the more interesting), then began playing blues when he realized he could make some money at it. Allmusic.com claims he killed a man and spent some time in prison for it (two years, with his family insisting it was in self-defense and he should be shown lenience); the Biograph notes gloss over that without stating outright whether it was true ("such stories--although often untrue--are so commonly woven into blues biographies that they have almost come to be regarded as career requirements.")

After he got out of prison/never was in prison, House travelled a bit with Charley Patton, then cut some sides for Paramount. The liner notes to this Biograph disc have it that Robert Johnson was originally a bad guitarist whose playing improved dramatically after he travelled with Son House, studying his guitar playing. It's hard to tell on some of the old blues stories what's true, what's exaggerated, and what's simply false, but House's influence on both Johnson and Muddy Waters is generally acknowledged.

House didn't hit it big from the Paramount recordings and disappeared awhile, working menial jobs until Alan Lomax showed up in August 1941 to record some of his music for the Library of Congress (the version of "Walking Blues" posted here is from those Lomax recordings). Lomax recorded him again shortly after and House continued at his menial jobs for the next twenty years; the story goes that when he was rediscovered in the blues revival in the 1960s he hadn't played guitar in so long that Alan Wilson had to teach him how to play again in his own former style.

"Walking Blues" is on Delta Blues (the compilation of Lomax recordings) twice, the first one with Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, and Leroy Williams, and the second one recorded a year later with only House and his guitar. "Empire State Express" is a solo number--just House and his guitar--and "Grinnin' in Your Face" is a cappella--just House's vocals and handclaps. These two are from Son House's 1960s recording Original Delta Blues. I like his later recordings a lot; they tend to be fiery and energetic.

Allmusic.com has it that House died of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's; the Biograph liner notes say he died of cancer of the larynx. They agree that he died on October 19, 1988.
[Amazon.com]: Delta Blues
[Amazon.com]: The Original Delta Blues


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