Monday, 7 January 2013

1965 Son House - Father of Folk Blues

Death Letter, Son House, 1967

Info: Eddie James "Son" House Jr. was born in Lyon, Mississippi in March, 1902, in the heart of the famous rivers Delta. A fervent Baptist preacher from the tender age of 15, and at one time pastor, in the early 20's he married an older woman, Carrie Martin, when he was only 19 years of age. The marriage was short-lived, however, as he felt he was just being used as a farm-hand on her fathers land, and so, he hit the road in search of alternative employment. Unusually, Son House did not pick up the guitar until he was 25, after seeing local bluesman Willie Wilson perform slide-guitar blues. Having worked hard jobs on plantations, steel factories and on a horse farm, he saw the blues as a way to escape that unrewarding life after making modest money at successive impromptu performances. Son House's new love of the Blues was a far cry from his early days as a devout Baptist, he once stated that he had considered even laying hands on a guitar a 'sinful act'. Inspired by Wilson and another local blues player, James McCoy, he bought himself a guitar, quickly mastered it and began playing juke joints with both men, on one such occasion a gunman entered the venue and shot House in the leg, House returned fire killing the man and ended up in prison for 2 years in 1928-9 for his troubles, his initial 15-year sentence reduced to two on grounds of self-defence upon appeal. This period of his life and the following years remain sketchy, with various music biographers unable to agree on the different stories, not helped by the fact that, due to illness in his later life, Son House's versions of events often contradicted each other. He did do some recording in the early 1930's for Paramount Records, but these were to be commercially unsuccessful, causing House to not record again until the mid-1960's. 

Folklorist Alan Lomax, who urged House to record for the Library of Congress in 1941, described his performances as follows in 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die; "With him the sorrow of the blues was not tentative, or retiring, or ironic. Son's whole body wept, as with his eyes closed, the tendons in his powerful neck standing out with the violence of his feeling...". Father of the Folk Blues certainly contains enough pain and anguish to reflect Lomax's description, from the opening track (in the above video) 'Death Letter', which recalls a man receiving a letter to say his wife has died, and at the funeral cries; "I didn't know I loved her, 'til they laid her in the ground" to 'Downhearted Blues', a song of regret and rejection where House ponders; "Got up this mornin', feeling sick and bad, thinkin' bout the good time, that I once have had..did you ever love, when they didn't love you? You know there wasn't satisfaction, didn't care what in the world you do". Outside of those two tracks, the purely vocal 'John The Revelator' and 'Empire State Express', where Son House plays guitar with the rhythm of a train, would be my personal favourites. This album is a nice introduction to good quality recorded blues and if you enjoy slide-guitar in particular, this is for you. 

Track Listing:

1. Death Letter
2. Pearline
3. Louise McGhee
4. John The Revelator
5. Empire State Express
6. Preachin' Blues
7. Grinnin' In Your Face
8. Sundown
9. Levee Camp Moan
10. Pony Blues
11. Downhearted Blues

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