This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site which was abandoned for its current site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
An album in my collection that is irreplaceable, and simply a classic!
The fifth album I’m featuring is a return to the roots of many styles of music – a return to the Blues, to the roots of the Blues in many ways – the Delta Blues.
It would be difficult to find any fan of the Blues who did not recognise Robert Johnson as being a ground breaker – a master of the blues, particularly of the Mississippi Delta blues style.
Yet, even the great Robert Johnson had a teacher, and that was the remarkable Son House. The “The Real Delta Blues” has 14 songs from the man who taught Robert Johnson and it holds a prized place.
Made by Yazoo and Blue Goose Records founder Nick Perls at his private studio and in folk clubs during the 1960s, The Real Delta Blues features reinterpretations of material that House originally played at his 1930 session for Paramount and 1941-1942 sessions for the Library of Congress.
It also contains versions of songs that would also appear on other post-rediscovery releases. It manages to capture the essence of the Delta Blues style, and, reflects the essential elements that made Son House, along with contemporary Charlie Patton, so great! The magic of his voice and playing is captured so well on this album.
It is recorded that House was born Eddie James House, Jr., on March 21, 1902, in Riverton, Mississippi. However, a number of researchers believe he was actually even older than this recorded birth date suggests.
He chopped cotton as a teenager while developing a passion for the Baptist church. By 1926, House began playing guitar under the tutelage of an obscure local musician named James McCoy. He developed quickly as a guitarist; within a year he had fallen in with Delta musician Rube Lacy and began emulating his slide guitar style.
His connection to the church should not be understated. He preached his first sermon at 15 years of age.
What Son House new about the Blues never matched his knowledge of the Bible, which he was prone to quoting during his drunken moments and in fact his being “captured by the spirit” was often seen while he played and there was nothing contrived about his eye-rolling stage histrionics and he would often sg\hed real tears as he sung.
House’s career was interrupted when he shot a man dead at a house party in Lyons, Mississippi and he was quickly sentenced to imprisonment at the notorious Parchman Farm.
House ended up only serving two years of his sentence and was released in 1929 or early 1930. After hitchhiking and hoboing the rails, he made it down to Lula, Mississippi which is about twelve miles north of Clarksdale.
It was here he met Charley Patton for the first time.
House’s powerful vocals and slashing slide guitar style established him as a giant of the Delta School but it did not lead to commercial success.
His influence, however, would be felt through the recordings of Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and other successful blues artists.
Many of the tracks on this album represent the songs he sung when there was no audience, other than himself.
The impression he conveys, without striving to do so, is that of a solitary Delta sharecropper greeting the dawn in a plantation shack.
Son House died October 19, 1988.
In all, there are thirty-seven known recordings of Son House, in the form of –
These span the period 1930 to a posthumous release in 2004.
Tracks on “The Real Delta Blues” (BG-2016) are:
1. Milkcow’s Calf Blues
2. I Shall Not Be Moved *
3. Rochester Blues
5. Lake Cormorant Blues
6. Motherless Children Have a Hard Time *
7. Mississippi County Farm Blues
1. Pony Blues
2. Trouble Blues
3. This Little Light of Mine *
4. A Down the Staff
5. The D.T. Moan
6. Lord Have Mercy When I Come to Die * 7. Soon In The Morning
All tracks written by Son House except for those marked with an *, which were traditional songs arranged by House.
Side one, Track 2 – I Shall Not be Moved is one of the tracks that House never wrote but rearranged to suit his style. It’s best described as a Negro spiritual. The song describes how the singer is “like a tree planted by the waters” who “shall not be moved” because of their faith in God.
There have been so many covers and so many rearrangements, but when House sings it, he means it
I Shall Not Be Moved
Side 2, Track 1 is very interesting. Pony Blues is credited to both House and Charley Patton. Further they both appear to have recorded the track around the same time.
Even a comparison of the lyrics shows them to be the same until we get past the first lines.
Son House –
…my pony, saddle up, up my black mare?
You know, I’m gonna find my baby, well, in the world somewhere
He’s a travelin’ pony, I declare, he’s too black bad
You know, he got a gait, now, no Shetlan’ ain’t never had
Baby, saddle my pony, saddle up my black mare
I’m gonna find a rider, baby, in the world somewhere
“Hello central, matter, Lord, with your line?”
“Come a storm last night an’ tore the wire down”
The final track we will share is Track 2 on Side 2 – Troubled Blues. I love the way his guitar playing is a feature of this track is his bottleneck fretting, more popularly known today as slide guitar playing.
It’s a technique whereby a hard object, typically a steel tube, a steel bar, or originally a glass bottleneck, is pressed across multiple strings and slid along the fingerboard to produce a smooth, whining sound that is in some ways evocative of the human voice.
As far as I can determine this is the only live clip[ of Son House, but, what a clip!
Scary Delta Blues