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Son House

Son House's place, not only in the history of Delta blues, but in the overall history of the music, is a very high one indeed. He was a major innovator of the Delta style, along with his playing partners Charley Patton and Willie Brown. Few listening experiences in the blues are as intense as hearing one of Son House's original 1930s recordings for the Paramount label. Entombed in a hailstorm of surface noise and scratches, one can still be awestruck by the emotional fervor House puts into his singing and slide playing. Little wonder then that the man became more than just an influence on some white English kid with a big amp; he was the main source of inspiration to both Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, and it doesn't get much more pivotal than that. Even after his rediscovery in the mid-'60s, House was such a potent musical force that what would have been a normally genteel performance by any other bluesmen in a "folk" setting turned into a night in the nastiest juke joint you could imagine, scaring the daylights out of young white enthusiasts expecting something far more prosaic and comfortable. Not out of Son House, no sir. When the man hit the downbeat on his National steel-bodied guitar and you saw his eyes disappear into the back of his head, you knew you were going to hear some blues. And when he wasn't shouting the blues, he was singing spirituals, a cappella. Right up to the end, no bluesman was torn between the sacred and the profane more than Son House.

He was born Eddie James House, Jr., on March 21, 1902, in Riverton, MS. By the age of 15, he was preaching the gospel in various Baptist churches as the family seemingly wandered from one plantation to the next. He didn't even bother picking up a guitar until he turned 25; to quote House, "I didn't like no guitar when I first heard it; oh gee, I couldn't stand a guy playin' a guitar. I didn't like none of it." But if his ambivalence to the instrument was obvious, even more obvious was the simple fact that Son hated plantation labor even more and had developed a taste for corn whiskey. After drunkenly launching into a blues at a house frolic in Lyon, MS, one night and picking up some coin for doing it, the die seemed to be cast; Son House may have been a preacher, but he was part of the blues world now.

If the romantic notion that the blues life is said to be a life full of trouble is true, then Son found a barrel of it one night at another house frolic in Lyon. He shot a man dead that night and was immediately sentenced to imprisonment at Parchman Farm. He ended up only serving two years of his sentence, with his parents both lobbying hard for his release, claiming self defense. Upon his release -- after a Clarksdale judge told him never to set foot in town again -- he started a new life in the Delta as a full-time man of the blues.

After hitchhiking and hoboing the rails, he made it down to Lula, MS, and ran into the most legendary character the blues had to offer at that point, the one and only Charley Patton. The two men couldn't have been less similar in disposition, stature, and in musical and performance outlook if they had purposely planned it that way. Patton was described as a funny, loud-mouthed little guy who was a noisy, passionate showman, using every trick in the book to win over a crowd. The tall and skinny House was by nature a gloomy man with a saturnine disposition who still felt extremely guilt-ridden about playing the blues and working in juke joints. Yet when he ripped into one, Son imbued it with so much raw feeling that the performance became the show itself, sans gimmicks. The two of them argued and bickered constantly, and the only thing these two men seemed to have in common was a penchant for imbibing whatever alcoholic potable came their way. Though House would later refer in interviews to Patton as a "jerk" and other unprintables, it was Patton's success as a bluesman -- both live and especially on record -- that got Son's foot in the door as a recording artist. He followed Patton up to Grafton, WI, and recorded a handful of sides for the Paramount label. These records today (selling scant few copies in their time, the few that did survived a life of huge steel needles, even bigger scratches, and generally lousy care) are some of the most highly prized collectors' items of Delta blues recordings, much tougher to find than, say, a Robert Johnson or even a Charley Patton 78. Paramount used a pressing compound for their 78 singles that was so noisy and inferior sounding that should someone actually come across a clean copy of any of Son's original recordings, it's a pretty safe bet that the listener would still be greeted with a blizzard of surface noise once the needle made contact with the disc.

But audio concerns aside, the absolutely demonic performances House laid down on these three two-part 78s ("My Black Mama," "Preachin' the Blues," and "Dry Spell Blues," with an unreleased test acetate of "Walkin' Blues" showing up decades later) cut through the hisses and pops like a brick through a stained glass window.

It was those recordings that led Alan Lomax to his door in 1941 to record him for the Library of Congress. Lomax was cutting acetates on a "portable" recording machine weighing over 300 pounds. Son was still playing (actually at the peak of his powers, some would say), but had backed off of it a bit since Charley Patton died in 1934. House did some tunes solo, as Lomax asked him to do, but also cut a session backed by a rocking little string band. As the band laid down long and loose (some tracks went on for over six minutes) versions of their favorite numbers, all that was missing was the guitars being plugged in and a drummer's backbeat and you were getting a glimpse of the future of the music.

But just as House had gone a full decade without recording, this time after the Lomax recordings, he just as quickly disappeared, moving to Rochester, NY. When folk-blues researchers finally found him in 1964, he was cheerfully exclaiming that he hadn't touched a guitar in years. One of the researchers, a young guitarist named Alan Wilson (later of the blues-rock group Canned Heat) literally sat down and retaught Son House how to play like Son House. Once the old master was up to speed, the festival and coffeehouse circuit became his oyster. He recorded again, the recordings becoming an important introduction to his music and, for some, a lot easier to take than those old Paramount 78s from a strict audio standpoint. In 1965, he played Carnegie Hall and four years later found himself the subject of an eponymously titled film documentary, all of this another world removed from Clarksdale, MS, indeed. Everywhere he played, he was besieged by young fans, asking him about Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and others. For young white blues fans, these were merely exotic names from the past, heard only to them on old, highly prized recordings; for Son House they were flesh and blood contemporaries, not just some names on a record label. Hailed as the greatest living Delta singer still actively performing, nobody dared call himself the king of the blues as long as Son House was around.

He fell into ill health by the early '70s; what was later diagnosed as both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease first affected his memory and his ability to recall songs on-stage and, later, his hands, which shook so bad he finally had to give up the guitar and eventually leave performing altogether by 1976. He lived quietly in Detroit, MI, for another 12 years, passing away on October 19, 1988. His induction into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980 was no less than his due. Son House was the blues. ~ Cub Koda
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Essential Blues Masters

1. Am I Right Or Wrong

2. Delta Blues

3. My Black Mama - Part 1

4. My Black Mama - Part 2

5. Walkin' Blues

6. American Defense

7. Special Rider Blues

8. County Farm Blues

9. Levee Camp Blues

10. Depot Blues

11. The Jinx Blues

12. Government Camp Blues

13. Pony Blues

14. Low Down Dirty Dog Blues

15. Preachin' The Blues, Pt. 1

16. Preachin' The Blues, Pt. 2

17. Dry Spell Blues - Part 1

18. Dry Spell Blues - Part 2

19. Camp Hollers

20. Shetland Pony Blues


Track List: Son House Revisited Vol. 2

1. Pony Blues (2006)

2. Motherless Children

3. Preachin' The Blues

4. This Little Light Of Mine

5. Son's Blues

6. I Shall Not Be Moved

7. Levee Camp Moan (2006)

8. Empire State Express (2006)

9. Pearline (2006)

10. Yonder Comes My Mother

11. Louise McGhee


Track List: Son House Revisited Vol. 1 (Live)

1. Introduction By Dick Waterman (Live)

2. Monologue By Son House (Live)

3. Levee Camp Moan (Live)

4. Monologue By Son House (Live)

5. Death Letter Blues (Live)

6. Monologue By Son House (Live)

7. Empire State Express (Live)

8. Monologue By Son House (Live)

9. Grinnin' In Your Face (Live)

10. Monologue By Son House (Live)

11. Preachin' Blues (Live)

12. Monologue By Son House (Live)

13. Son's Blues (Live)

14. Levee Camp Moan (Version 2) (Live)

15. Monologue By Son House (Live)

16. John The Revelator (Live)


Track List: King Of The Delta Blues

1. Levee Camp Blues

2. Government Fleet Blues

3. Walking Blues

4. Shetland Pony Blues

5. Camp Hollers

6. Delta Blues

7. Special Rider Blues (Pt. 1)

8. Special Rider Blues

9. Low Down Dirty Dog Blues

10. Depot Blues

11. Demonstration Of Concert Guitar Tuning (The Key Of Minor)

12. American Defense

13. Am I Right Or Wrong

14. Walking Blues

15. County Farm Blues

16. The Pony Blues

17. Jinx Blues (No. 1)

18. Jinx Blues (No. 2)


Track List: Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: Son House

1. My Black Mama, Pt. 1

2. Preachin' Blues, Pt. 1

3. Dry Spell Blues, Pt. 1

4. Levee Camp Blues (1933)

5. Walking Blues

6. Special Rider Blues

7. Pony Blues

8. Death Letter

9. Pearline

10. John The Revelator

11. Preachin' Blues

12. Empire State Express

13. Levee Camp Moan

14. Grinnin' In Your Face


Track List: "Live" At Gaslight Cafe, NYC, January 3, 1965

1. Pony Blues (Live)

2. Motherless Children (Live)

3. Preachin' The Blues (Live)

4. This Little Light Of Mine (Live)

5. Son's Blues (Live)

6. Death Letter Blues (Incomplete) (Live)

7. I Shall Not Be Moved (Live)

8. Levee Camp Moan (Live)

9. Empire State Express (Live)

10. Pearline (Live)

11. Yonder Comes My Mother (When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder) (Live)

12. Louise McGhee (Incomplete) (Live)


Track List: In Concert

1. Introduction House (Live In Mississippi, 1965)

2. It's So Hard (Live In Mississippi, 1965)

3. Judgement Day (Live In Mississippi, 1965)

4. New York Central (Live In Mississippi, 1965)

5. A True Friends Is Hard To Find (Live In Mississippi, 1965)

6. Preachin' Blues (Live In Mississippi, 1965)


Track List: The Original Delta Blues (Mojo Workin': Blues For The Next Generation)

1. Death Letter Blues

2. Pearline

3. Louise McGhee (1965)

4. John The Revelator

5. Empire State Express

6. Preachin' Blues (1965)

7. Grinnin' In Your Face

8. Sundown

9. Levee Camp Moan

10. Pony Blues

11. Downhearted Blues


Track List: Delta Blues

1. Delta Blues

2. Government Fleet Blues

3. Walking Blues

4. Shetland Pony Blues

5. Levee Camp Blues

6. Special Rider Blues

7. Low Down Dirty Dog Blues

8. Depot Blues

9. American Defence

10. Am I Right Or Wrong

11. Walking Blues (Short Version)

12. County Farm Blues

13. Pony Blues

14. The Jinx Blues

15. The Jinx Blues (Long Version)


Track List: Son House - At Home - Rochester 1969

1. Son's Blues

2. Yonder Comes My Mother

3. Shetland Pony Blues

4. I'm So Sorry Baby

5. Plantation Song

6. Mister Suzie-Q

7. Evening Train

8. Sundown

9. Preachin' The Blues

10. Empire State Express

11. Never Mind People Grinnin' In Your Face

12. Sun Goin' Down

13. A Spoken Message


Track List: The Essential Son House: The Columbia Years

Disc 1

1. Death Letter Blues

2. Pearline

3. Louise McGhee

4. John The Revelator

5. Empire State Express

6. Preachin' Blues

7. Grinnin' In Your Face

8. Sundown

9. Levee Camp Moan

Disc 2

1. Death Letter Blues (Alternate Version)

2. Levee Camp Moan (Alternate Take)

3. Grinnin' In Your Face (Alternate Version)

4. John The Revelator (Alternate Take)

5. Preachin' Blues (Alternate Take)

6. President Kennedy

7. A Down The Staff

8. Motherless Children

9. Yonder Comes My Mother

10. Shake It & Break It

11. Pony Blues

12. Downhearted Blues


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This man was something else. I'm so grateful that he is able to live on through his music and the souls of those who he has and continues to touch. There will never be another like him, long live Delta Blues.
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Love those Delta blues!
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brings me back to simpler times
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The last sentence of the biography above
says it ALL.........
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Son House nuff said
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Son House's music touches upon the core human interactions of everyday life. He conjures feelings and emotions of love, hate, achievement, failure, nirvana, have and emptiness. One of my favorite songs Grinning in your Face, talks of friendship, family bonds and how beautiful, precious and debilitating they may be. The song is a testament to, or what can, and should be. Son House, the sinner and saint, talks to us forever. Play on.
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ya can't beat good slide and delta blues and Son House is a master
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Don't read this. You will be kissed by the move of your life on the nearest Friday. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. Now that you've started reading this don't stop or you will have bad luck. Post this on 15 songs in the next 143 minutes. Press the space bar and your crushes name will appear
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mandanatfate m i 0
Amazing singer and player
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Is this one of the songs Alan Wilson (Canned Heat) played with Son House on the Father of Folk Blues album?
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A change agent in the delta blues....
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Terraplane Blues is Robert Johnson, not Son House. Please correct the labelling on that one.
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sing it for me please
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Fred McDowell and Son House, then Fury
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One of the truly great slide player! A toss up between him and Furry Lewis!?
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Mean old fireman and cruel old engineer took my baby away. Soh House and Fred McDowell, the kings of the deltra blues.
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Son House's Words About The Blues: 'The real old blues don't cause for no jumpin'. If you go to jumpin', that ain't the blues. They can name it the blues but it ain't the blues. The blues is just by itself, that's the blues. When you done got lonesome and worried, don't know what to do. Thinking about your loved ones, people that you want to be nice to you. You've been nice to them but they ain't to you. You're deceived by them, now you got the blues by 'em and you don't know what to do.'
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'You wants to see them, wonder where they at, wonder where they're going, wonder why they deceive me. I trust them with everything I had. I done everything. I turned my heart to 'em with faith and belief in 'em and then they get up and deceive me. Now, you don't know whether to cut their throat or to cry again. That's the blues. You cry, you cry alone. Weep alone. Then you want to shut up in the room someplace. You don't want no company.'
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'You're not mad with the other people but you want to lock your door and get in there where you can cry good fashioned. Hear somebody knockin' on your door. You don't wanna hear 'em. It's not you're mad with 'em. You don't want no company right now. You want to sit down and concentrate in your own mind. You don't want no botherin' even with daddy, sister, momma. Nobody. Oh, I wish they would go away. And the first time that I ever heard something they call the blues, down the Mississippi River.'
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we're pregnant
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what the hell?! son house don't have his own station? what kind of crap is that!!!!
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No Blues man was torn between the sacred and the profane, than Son House' Ain't that the truth.
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Yet another man that made the Delta blues great!
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The one and only
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Hes was a walking contradictio n both to his faith and blues.... Who'da thought it be a match made in blues heaven one of the best and possibly the only real blues players my hat and my guitar tip to the King of blues and music itself SON HOUSE - DJ Bloodshed
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Raw indeed. It just doesn't get any more badass than Son House.
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Son House, the King of the Blues. No one can dispute his contribution to the blues and music in general. The sheer rawness of his music is so amazing.
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The true master
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cool as a winter fan
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wow, excellent bio. thanks.
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Wow, what an influence on so many people.

My faviorite Son story, when back in the day Muddy's band is going towards the the stage and one of the band members shuffles into an old man exiting and mocks him, Muddy grabs the punk by the collar and says (para phrasing)"Do n ' t mess with that guy, thats why I'm here"
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Emotion and passion at it's best.
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Um.. its Son House, son.
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His name is Sun House...spre a d "His" name...when you praise others it just clouds where the sound and style origanlly came from!!!!
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son house is great. kudos to jack white for covering him
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just watched that documentary. with J.P. the Edge and J.W. called "it might get loud" on Net Flex. watch it if you enjoy music. I've enjoyed Son House since i first heard him 10 year after he died. Never really appreciated Jack White until i watched the Documentary though.
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Jack White, Jimmy Page & The Edge all sharing influences & jammin' ?
Freakin' Awesome! A must see for any fan of roots, rock & the blues and guitar worshippers in general.
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did the people who left a comment about jack white happen to watch "It Might Get Loud"
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I understand why I liked gutiarman Jack White when he talks about Son House. I've resided most of my life in Rochester- Jack in Detroit...
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Thank You Michael, I must agree! I sat in Muddy's living room and played a little with him a year before he passed on (God, Please, rest his soul!) Now I know some of his inspiration, and this is it!
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THE man! I love this voice!
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@Rocknrollpa d d y t t y t t y Gotta Love them White stripes amazing just as Son House ....pure genious
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I got a letter this mornin, how do you reckon it read?
It said, "Hurry, hurry, yeah, your love is dead"
-Death Letter Blues
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Son House is magnificent. This biography, however, needs to have a lot of strutting, self-aggrand i z i n g crap stripped out of it. Just tell us about the man and how he changed music.
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"Ohh, yeahhh! Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, oh yeahhh!"
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Son House proves George Carlin right when Carlin said "White man has no business singing the blues!!". If you listen to Son House and come away without a deeper appreciation for the expressivene s s of music and the blues then you are inhuman.
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the most intense blues of all time.
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