Son House (1902 - 1988) 

Edward James House, Jr. (Son House) was born on March 21st 1902 in the hamlet of Lyon, north of Clarksdale in Mississippi. He was the middle of three brothers and lived in the rural Mississippi Delta until his parents separated. His father, Eddie House, Sr., played the tuba in a band with his brothers, and sometimes also played the guitar. He was a member of the church and eventually became a Deacon. 

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Son House followed his family way regarding religion and also the family's love of music. He restricted himself to singing however and showed no interest in his family's instrumental band. He also felt entirely against Blues music at this time due to his religious beliefs. 

Son's parents separated when he was around seven or eight years old and his mother took him to Tallulah in Louisiana. In his early teens, they moved to Algiers in New Orleans. Later in life, Son would mention of his hatred of the blues and his love of the church. He began preaching sermons when he was about fifteen years old and probably living in Algiers.

At around nineteen years old and living in the Delta, he married Carrie Martin, an older woman from New Orleans. They moved to her hometown of Centreville in Louisiana to help run her father's farm. Son House felt used after a couple of years there though and left the farm and his wife. His Mother died the same year, around 1922.

The resentment that Son felt towards farming continued with the various other unskilled jobs he did as a young man. He often moved from place to place, and once he even left for East Saint Louis to work in a steel plant. One job he did enjoy was on a Louisiana horse ranch. He later celebrated his love of the ranch by wearing a cowboy in performances.

In his early twenties he found some ease from the constant manual jobs when he was accepted as a paid Pastor for the Baptist Church, and then in the Coloured Methodist Episcopal Church. Unfortunately though, like his father, he fell into bad habits of drinking alcohol. This eventually caused him to leave the church, but he still felt a need to preach every now and then. 

"Death Letter Blues"

Son House The Performer

At the age of 25, Son House experienced a dramatic change of perspective towards music. Just South of Clarksdale, Son heard one of his drinking companions playing bottleneck guitar. This was a style that he'd never heard before, and which instantly changed his opinion of the blues. The person he heard playing was either James McCoy or Willie Wilson.

Son bought a guitar from a musician called Frank Hoskins, and within weeks he was playing with Hoskins, McCoy and Wilson. "My Black Mama" and "Preachin' The Blues" were two songs he learned from McCoy that would later be among his most well-known.

A very well-known performer at that time, Reuben Lacy, was another source of inspiration for Son. Lacy had recorded in 1927 for Columbia Records and in 1928 with Paramount Records

Son House soon developed a unique style based on the rhythm, vocal power and emotional intensity of his preaching, and applied these qualities to his blues guitar playing and singing performances. In a very short time, he developed to a very high standard and became known for his emotional style of singing and simple, bottleneck, slide guitar playing.

His short career was interrupted after he allegedly killed a man in self-defence and consequently spent time in prison during 1928 and 1929.  During 1927 or 1928, Son was playing in a Juke Joint when a man went on a shooting spree. Son got wounded in the leg, and shot the man who died. Son was sentenced to 15 years at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm.

Son House only served two years though, due to an appeal made by his family. He also credited his early release to the involvement of the white planter who they worked for, who somehow influenced the situation. The exact date of the offence, and the time he spent in the penitentiary are uncertain as there were no details found in the court records of Coahoma County when searched for by Son's biographer, Daniel Beaumont. Son House himself couldn't remember the exact dates and time.

When released from the Penitentiary, sometime late 1929 to early 1930, Son was advised to leave Clarksdale permanently. He walked to Jonestown and caught a train to Lula, also in Mississippi. Lula was a small town sixteen miles north of Clarksdale and eight miles from Helena, Arkansas. It was the centre of the blues scene during that time and significantly so still today. .

The great Delta Blues player, Charlie Patton had been expelled from the Dockery Plantation and was also residing in Lula with his friend and musical associate Willie Brown at the time. Charlie Patton's performances dominated the local blues scene. Son busked to make ends meat as he arrived with no money at Lula. Charlie Patton watched Son House busking and was impressed with his ability and showmanship while he attracted a crowd to the café of a local bootleg whisky business woman called Sara Knight. Charlie asked Son to be a regular performing act with him and Willie Brown, inviting him to attend gigs with them, and even requested Son go with him to a recording session for Paramount Records in 1930.

Unfortunately, the 1930 recordings were released at the start of The Great Depression and did not sell. Son House therefore didn't become a national success, but did remain ever popular during the 1930's, and together with Charlie Patton's associate, Willie Brown, he was the leading blues performer of Coahoma City. During this time, Son had a strong influence on the brilliant and controversial Robert Johnson, as well as the highly successful and influential Muddy Waters.

In 1941 and 1942, Son House and the members of his band were recorded by Alan Lomax for The Library of Congress and Fisk University. The following year, he left the Delta for Rochester in New York, and gave up music until being rediscovered in 1964 by a group of young record collectors who knew of him from his records by Paramount and the Library of Congress Recordings by Lomax and his associates.

With the young record collector's encouragement, Son relearned his songs and continued a career as an entertainer to young white audiences in coffee houses, folk festivals and concerts of the American Folk Music Revival. Son recorded several studio albums, and some unofficially recorded concerts were also released as albums.

Son House died in 1988.

Son House with a Young Buddy Guy in 1968 "My Black Mama"

Tributes and Covers of Son's Songs

  • When The Rolling Stones met Howlin' Wolf in 1965, they asked who the older man with him was, and whom Howlin' Wolf was so respectful of. They were awestruck to hear it was Son House, whom they knew as "the man who taught Robert Johnson".
  • Gary Moore covered the song "Sundown" on his 2007 album "Close as You Get".
  • French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel referred to Son House in the song "Cent Ans de Plus" on his 1999 album Hors-Saison.
  • Clips of Son talking about the blues were used in the movie Blake Snake Moan.
  • Andrew Bird covered Son's song "Grinnin in Your Face'" (which was called "Grinning") on his live album "Fingerlings 3".
  • The Indie Rock band, 'Gomez' song "Rhythm and Blues Alibi" mentions Son.
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd's song "Swamp Music" pays tribute to Son House.
  • John "Cougar" Mellencamp covered the song "Death Letter" and also "John the Revelator" (a cover by Son in the 60's) on his "Troubled No More" album.
  • Gov't Mule, a Southern, Rock Jam band also covered "John the Revelator" on their "Dose" album and "Grinnin' in your Face" on the album of their name (Gov't Mule). 
  • "Death Letter" was also covered on the album "Out of The Madness" by The Derek Trucks Band.
  • The White Stripes' debut album of the same name was dedicated to Son House, and their second studio album "De Stijl" featured a cover of "Death Letter".
  • "Grinnin' In Your Face" was covered on many occasions by City and Colour where the lead singer Dallas Green performed the song a cappella.
  • The song "Empire State Express" is covered by Rory Gallagher's album from 1990 "Fresh Evidence".
  • Folk music and punk rock musician Eamon McGrath often plays a cover of "Death Letter" into his live performances.
  • American Jazz singer, songwriter and performer Cassandra Wilson also covered the song "Death Letter" on her 1995 album "New Moon Daughter".
  • English band Depeche Mode use a modified version of "John the Revelator" on their 2005 album, "Playing the Angel".
  • "Grinnin' In Your Face" is covered on Ash Grunwald's live recorded album entitled "Introducing Ash Grunwald".
  • Other artists known to have covered "Death Letter" are; David Johansen, Diamanda Galas and James Blood Alma.
  • Conclusion

    Son House was without doubt one of the major influences in early Delta blues guitar evolution. The Rolling Stones new him as "the man who taught Robert Johnson". Son also continued  to enjoy a recording career in the 1960's where here continued to inspire and influence countless blues guitarists with his style and natural ability both as a singer and guitarist.

    Thank you Son.

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