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Son House: Death Letter Blues

TDR Roots of Rock: Delta Blues with the great SON HOUSE. Edward James House, Jr. came out of the Delta in Mississippi in the early 1920's as a Christian Preacher who was hostile to the Secular Music of the Time. By age 25, he had adopted some of his late father's habits (drinking and womanizing) and had dropped out of the church. After seeing his drinking partner Willie Dixon playing bottle neck guitar and getting a lot of ladies decided to become a singing guitar slinger himself.

 

He added the rhythmic drive, vocal power and emotional intensity of his preaching to his newly learned style that set him apart and went on to influence the styles of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. In 1927 playing in a Juke Joint he had his new career interrupted when some fool came in and started shooting the place up hitting Son in the leg, he pulled out his pistol and shot the gunman dead. This earned him a 15 year stretch on Parchman Farm at the Mississippi Pen, but he was released after two years when the shooting was judged to be self-defense.

 

He had a brief marriage to a woman he later referred to as a "New Orleans whore," who's father had him working on his farm until he walked away one day and never returned. Son House kicked around the Chitlin Circuit and played both solo and with others like Charlie Patton for years (doing a little bootlegging on the side) and was found and recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress twice, not realizing that one day those recordings would bring him the fame and fortune he deserved.

 

Finally in 1942 growing tired of not making much money and venereal diseases, he quit show business and in 1942 headed to Rochester, New York, where he scored a job as a Porter and Chef on the New York Central Railroad, considered Top Notch work for Black Men at the time. In 1964, after his recordings were rediscovered during the Folk Music Revival, he was tracked down and invited to make new recordings for CBS and play at the Newport Folk Festival to great response.


These events led to Touring in the U.S. and then Europe where his recordings were even more Popular and got him invited to perform at the Montreux Festival and London's Royal Albert Hall. He continued to do gigs and record until 1974 when he was diagnosed with Cancer of the Larynx (probably cigarettes) and retired to Detroit where he died of Alzheimer's disease in 1988.

 

Scott found an excellent video for this piece, but he also commented: "When I see Son House play, I can't help thinking that Robert Johnson's performances must have been a little like this. The guitar is a time machine that takes everyone that hears it back to the Mississippi Delta in the 1920s. Remarkable." And so it is and here's the nicely done Kinescope you found of Son House doing "Death House Blues" with good audio and picture. @therealdonrocks

 

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