Son House Profile:
Born: March 21, 1902 in Riverton MS
Died: October 19, 1988 in Detroit MI
The great Son House was a six-string innovator, haunting vocalist, and powerful performer that set the Delta on fire during the 1920s and '30s with scorched-earth performances and timeless recordings. A friend and colleague of Charley Patton, the two often traveled together, and Patton introduced House to his contacts at Paramount Records. House was also a lay preacher and remained conflicted throughout his career, with one foot in the gospel and one in the profane world of the blues.
Preaching The Gospel
Born Eddie James House, Jr., as a youth he traveled from plantation to plantation with his parents, preaching the Gospel in various Baptist churches across the Delta. By his own account, House didn't even like the sound of a guitar, but after drinking too much corn liquor one night at a party, he picked up the guitar and began picking out some blues. The tips he received convinced the 25-year-old that there was money to be made in playing the "devil's music."
House would meet and subsequently tour with the Delta's most popular musician, Charley Patton, who also helped the singer and guitarist sign a deal with Paramount Records. House recorded a number of sides for the label, but after his early records sold poorly, House retired from recording for the better part of a decade, although he continued to perform live.
House's few Paramount label 78s remain among the most elusive and highly-collectible (i.e. expensive) of early blues recordings, but they caught the ear of Library of Congress musicologist Alan Lomax, who traveled to Mississippi in 1941 to record House and friends. After these sessions, House literally disappeared.
The 1960s Folk-Blues Boom
House was rediscovered by a trio of blues researchers in 1964 in Rochester, New York. Re-taught his signature guitar licks by fan and future Canned Heat founder Al Wilson, House became part of the decade's folk-blues revival, performing live and recording several albums. House's poor health - he was diagnosed with both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease - forced him off the road in 1976.
Recommended Albums: Although many of House's early recordings remain lost or difficult to find, Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Son House includes a diverse selection of material from the 1930s, '40s, and '60s.