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Eddie James "Son" House, Jr. (March 21, 1902 – October 19,

1988) was an American blues singer and guitarist, noted for his

highly emotional style of singing and slide guitarplaying.

 

After years of hostility to secular music, as a preacher, and for a

few years also as a church pastor, he turned to blues performance

at the age of 25. He quickly developed a unique style by applying

the rhythmic drive, vocal power and emotional intensity of his

preaching to the newly learned idiom. In a short career

interrupted by a spell in Parchman Farmpenitentiary, he developed

to the point that Charley Patton, the foremost blues artist of the

Mississippi Delta region, invited him to share engagements, and to

accompany him to a 1930 recording session for Paramount

Records.

Issued at the start of The Great Depression, the records did not

sell and did not lead to national recognition. Locally, Son remained

popular, and in the 1930s, together with Patton's associate, Willie

Brown, he was the leading musician of Coahoma County. There he

was a formative influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.

In 1941 and 1942, House and the members of his band were

recorded by Alan Lomax and John W. Work for Library of Congress

and Fisk University. The following year, he left the Delta for Rochester, New York, and gave up music.

 

In 1964, a group of young record collectors discovered House, whom they knew of from his records issued by Paramount and by the Library of

Congress. With their encouragement, he relearned his style and repertoire and enjoyed a career as an entertainer to young white audiences in the

coffee houses, folk festivals and concert tours of the American folk music revival billed as a "folk blues" singer. He recorded several albums, and

some informally taped concerts have also been issued as albums. Son House died in 1988.

 

In addition to his early influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, he became an inspiration to John Hammond, Alan Wilson (of Canned Heat),

Bonnie Raitt, The White Stripes,Dallas Green and John Mooney.

 

Early life

 Mississippi State Penitentiary, where Son House was confined

The middle of three brothers, House was born in the hamlet of Lyon, north of Clarksdale, Mississippi and continued to live in the rural Mississippi

Delta until his parents separated. His father, Eddie House, Sr., was a musician, playing the tuba in a band with his many brothers, and sometimes

playing guitar. He was a church member, but also a drinker. This caused him to leave the church for a time, before giving up drink and becoming a

deacon. Young Eddie House adopted the family concern with religion and churchgoing. He also absorbed the family love of music, but confined

himself to singing, showing no interest in the family instrumental band, and feeling entirely hostile to the Blues on religious grounds.

 

Son's parents separated when he was about seven or eight. His mother took him to Tallulah, Louisiana, across the Mississippi River from Vicksburg,

Mississippi. When Son was in his early teens, they moved to Algiers, New Orleans. Recalling these years, Son would later speak of his hatred of

blues and his passion for churchgoing (he described himself as "churchy" and "churchified"). At fifteen, probably while living in Algiers, he began

preaching sermons.

 

At the age of nineteen, while living in the Delta, he married an older woman from New Orleans named Carrie Martin. This was a significant step for

House; he married in church and against family opposition. The couple moved to her hometown of Centreville, Louisiana to help run Carrie's

father's farm. After a couple of years, feeling used and disillusioned, House recalls "I left her hanging on the gatepost, with her father tellin' me to

come back so we could plow some more." In later years, House was still angry and said of Carrie "She wasn't nothin' but one of them New Orleans

whores". At around the same time, probably 1922, Son's mother died.

 

House's resentment of farming extended to the many menial jobs he took in his young adult years. He moved around frequently, on one occasion

taking off to East Saint Louis to work in a steel plant. The one job he enjoyed was on a Louisiana horse ranch, which later he celebrated by wearing

a cowboy hat in his performances. He found some relief from constant manual labor when, following a conversion experience "getting religion" in

his early twenties, he was accepted as a paid pastor, first in the Baptist Church, then in the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. However, like his

father before him, he fell into habits which conflicted with his calling — drinking like his father, and probably also womanizing. This led him after

several years of conflict to "leave the church" — i.e. cease his full-time commitment — although he still felt the need to preach sermons from time

to time.

 

Blues performer

In 1927 at the age of 25, House underwent a change of musical perspective as rapid and dramatic as a religious conversion. In a hamlet south of

Clarksdale, Son heard one of his drinking companions, either James McCoy or Willie Wilson (his recollections differed), playing bottleneck guitar, a

style he had never heard before. He immediately changed his attitude to blues, bought a guitar from a musician called Frank Hoskins, and within

weeks was playing with Hoskins, McCoy and Wilson. Two songs he learned from McCoy would later be among his best-known: "My Black Mama"

and "Preachin' The Blues". Another source of inspiration was Reuben Lacy, a much better known performer who had recorded for Columbia Records

in 1927 (no titles released) and for Paramount Records in 1928 (two titles released). In an astonishing short time, with only these four musicians as

models, House developed to professional standard a blues style based on his religious singing and simple bottleneck guitar style.

 

After allegedly killing a man in self-defense, he spent time in prison in 1928 and 1929. The official story on the killing is that sometime around 1927

or 1928, he was playing in a juke joint when a man went on a shooting spree. Son was wounded in the leg, and shot the man dead. He received a

15-year sentence at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm), of which he served two years.[11] House credited his re-examination and

release to an appeal by his family, but also spoke of the intervention by the influential white planter for whom they worked.[12] The date of the

killing and the duration of his sentence are unclear. House gave different accounts to different interviewers and searches by his biographer Daniel

Beaumont found no details in the court records of Coahoma County or in the archive of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

 

On his release in 1929 or early 1930, Son was strongly advised to leave Clarksdale and stay away. He walked to Jonestown and caught a train to

the small town of Lula, Mississippi, sixteen miles north of Clarksdale, and eight miles from the blues hub of Helena, Arkansas. Coincidentally, the

great star of Delta Blues, Charley Patton, was also in virtual exile in Lula, having been expelled from his base in the Dockery Plantation. With his

partner Willie Brown, Patton dominated the local market for professional blues performance. Patton watched House busking when he arrived

penniless at Lula station, but did not approach him. He then observed Son's showmanship attracting a crowd to the café and bootleg whiskey

business of a woman called Sara Knight, and invited him to be a regular musical partner with him and Brown. Son formed a liaison with Knight, and

both musicians profited from association with her bootlegging activities.] The musical partnership is disputed by Patton's biographers Stephen Calt

and Gayle Dean Wardlow. They consider that House's musicianship was too limited to play with Patton and Brown, who were also rumoured to be

estranged at the time. They also cite one statement by House that he did not play for dances in Lula.  Beaumont concludes that Son became a firm

friend of Patton, traveling with him to gigs but playing separately.

 

Recording[edit]

In 1930, Art Laibly of Paramount Records traveled to Lula to convince Patton to record several more sides in Grafton, Wisconsin. Along with Patton

came House, Brown, and pianist Louise Johnson, who would all end up recording sides for the label. House recorded nine songs during that session,

eight of which were released; but these were commercial failures, and House would not record again commercially for 35 years. House continued

to play with Patton and Brown, even after Patton's death in 1934. During this time, House worked as a tractor driver for various plantations around

the Lake Cormorant area.

 

Alan Lomax first recorded House for the Library of Congress in 1941. Willie Brown, mandolin player Fiddlin' Joe Martin, and harmonica player Leroy

Williams played with House on these recordings. Lomax returned to the area in 1942, where he recorded House once more. He then faded from the

public view, moving to Rochester, New York, in 1943, working as a railroad porter for the New York Central Railroad and as a chef.

 

Rediscovery

In 1964, after a long search of the Mississippi Delta region by Nick Perls, Dick Waterman and Phil Spiro, he ended up being "rediscovered" in

Rochester, NY. House had been retired from the music business for many years, and was unaware of the 1960s folk blues revival and international

enthusiasm regarding his early recordings.

 

He subsequently toured extensively in the US and Europe and recorded for CBS Records. Like Mississippi John Hurt, he was welcomed into the

music scene of the 1960s and played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, the New York Folk Festival in July 1965,and the October 1967

European tour of the American Folk Festival along with Skip James and Bukka White.

 

The young guitarist Alan Wilson (Canned Heat) was a fan of Son House. The producer John Hammond Sr asked Wilson, who was just 22 years old,

to teach "Son House how to play like Son House," because Alan Wilson had such a good knowledge of the blues styles. The album The Father of

Delta Blues - The Complete 1965 Sessions was the result.[18] Son House played with Alan Wilson live. It can be heard on the album John the

Revelator: The 1970 London Sessions.

 

In the summer of 1970, House toured Europe once again, including an appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival; a recording of his London concerts

was released by Liberty Records. He also played at the two Days of Blues Festival in Toronto in 1974. On an appearance on the TV arts show

Camera Three, he was accompanied by blues guitarist Buddy Guy.

 

Ill health plagued House's later years and in 1974 he retired once again, and later moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he remained until his death

from cancer of the larynx. He was buried at the Mt. Hazel Cemetery. Members of the Detroit Blues Society raised money through benefit concerts

to put a monument on his grave. He had been married five times.

 

 

The Forum post is edited by bninna Aug 12 '15, 11:13AM
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