Published on February 22nd, 2013 | by e0
Son House – Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Son House
Summary: The selections on this installment of the Heroes of the Blues series are exceptional. The fact that Son House faded into obscurity almost as quickly as he achieved minor fame is sadly fitting. With all due respect to Elvis and The Beatles and countless other white acts that followed and stole/borrowed musically and/or thematically from House and his contemporaries, it is sad that, to most, House remains a footnote in the history of 20th century music
Normally I don’t endorse ‘best of’s', but they can’t be avoided when the artist’s first recordings are over 80 years old. The ignorant must begin somewhere. Like most bluesman, Son House‘s music was appropriated by white people in the 60′s. This was good because it exposed generations that followed to a Mississippi Delta blues master; a self-taught visionary musician who played for whisky and women first, money second, and whose sound was inimitable. The bad news is that the white folks that rediscovered him brought him before the masses as an oddity, a bizarre relic that brought credibility to the folk revival at the expense of Son House himself. By this point, already over 60 years old, he had already become a preacher (with obviously mixed results regarding piety), murdered two people (each time in self-defense), befriended the tragically doomed father of the blues, Charlie Patton, and developed a drinking problem so severe that he had to be retaught how to play guitar because of alcohol related tremors.
The selections on this installment of the Heroes of the Blues series are exceptional. Robert Johnson was so taken by the 1930 recordings of “My Black Mama”, “Walking Blues”, and “Dry Spell Blues” (a nod to Patton’s similarly titled composition) that he would go on to record his own version of “Walking Blues” six years later. As legend has it, Johnson would sit reverently at the feet of Son House, mesmerized while he played at the juke joints of the surrounding area. “Country Farm Blues” chronicles the two year stretch House did in a prison for a murder in the late-20′s, cryptically recounting how the cruel guard watching the prisoners would “write his name up and down your back” with his billy club to those who stepped out of line. Recordings from 1941 show that House was an excellent ensemble player. “Walking Blues” and “Delta Blues” develop into fresh, breezy takes on his style with the colorful accompaniment of harmonica and mandolin. Selections from his post-rediscovery era of the 1960′s reveal themes including paranoia, mortality, and biblical reassessment to his already formidable canon. House laments that “a true friend is hard to find” and “when your back is turned they’ll be trying to crush you down” on “Grinnin’ In Your Face.” His guitar playing and vocal performance on “Empire State Express” personifies the driving force of a train bearing down on a man who is trying to escape a violent end. “John the Revelator,” perhaps his most well known song, is a bible lesson illustrating the crushing, sinister power of an unforgiving God.
The fact that Son House faded into obscurity almost as quickly as he achieved minor fame is sadly fitting. With all due respect to Elvis and The Beatles and countless other white acts that followed and stole/borrowed musically and/or thematically from House and his contemporaries, it is sad that, to most, House remains a footnote in the history of 20th century music. As The Kinks once eloquently sang, “Bless you Uncle Son, they won’t forget you when the revolution comes.”