Historical unreleased album from master of the Delta blues – Son House
Son House – Forever on My Mind – Easy Eye Sound #EES-024 – stereo vinyl – 1964 ****
(Son House – steel bodied National Resonator acoustic guitar, vocals)
It is not often that a recording is found from a delta blues legend, whose career had been dormant for decades. Such is the case with Son House (born Eddie James House, Jr. in 1902). Son House recorded on 78s and field recordings in the 1930s and ’40s, but was unheard from (outside of Southern juke joints), until 1964, when he was tracked down by three young white young adults, who were fascinated by his bottleneck slide guitar skills.
They found House in Rochester, New York, where he had been working on the railroad, and assorted other jobs for years. His guitar skills were rusty, but he was game to play for (primarily) white audiences, who craved to hear authentic blues men from the South.
Dick Waterman, one of the three that tracked down Son House, became his manager and booked folk festivals and colleges for engagements. Dick hooked him up to practice his repertoire with Alan Wilson, of the band, Canned Heat. Son quickly regained his chops, and he began a new renaissance for the next ten years.
Dan Auerbach, of The Black Keys, recently approached Waterman, who had the reel to reel tape recording of a November 23, 1964 concert at Wabash College in Indiana. The 11/23/64 tape pre-dates a Columbia Records issue (The Legendary Son House: Father of Folk Blues) by several days, that was noted to be the first album from this blues artist on his comeback. Auerbach runs Easy Eye Sound, and is a connoisseur of folk blues. It was a natural match between Dick Waterman and Auerbach, as Dick knew that Easy Eye would present a superb remastered product.
The acoustics from this college performance, after audio restoration and mastering by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound, present Son House in excellent form. His bottleneck slide skills at age 62 were still strong, and his new steel bodied National Resonator guitar has a warmth that is deeply moving.
Son House had a period during his hiatus from performing that he became a minister, with noted sermon skills. The intensity of his voice, combined with his guitar playing makes a compelling case for his place as a Mississippi Delta blues legend.
This new release has new versions of the seven songs on the Columbia Records issue, as well as the sole recorded version of the title track, a staple of Son House’s concerts. Plus we also have never heard recordings of “Death Letter” and “Preachin’ Blues.”
The Wabash College audience (estimated at less than 50 people) is quiet and respectful, likely in awe of the naked and raw passionate vocals and brilliant slide guitar skill of this folk blues master.
The song list is classic Delta songs dealing with unrequited love (“Louise McGhee,” “Levee Camp Moan); riding the train (“Empire State Express”); and visits to dark themes (“Death Letter”).
It was a real treat for me to rediscover Son House. By the mid to late 1970s, most of the Delta folk blues artists were passing on. To hear Son House, still vibrant and enjoying his rediscovery, for another decade, is a heartwarming experience. I highly recommend this release to fans of authentic acoustic Delta blues. Son House was the “real deal.”
Forever on My Mind, Preachin’ Blues, Empire State Express, Death Letter
The Way Mother Did, Louise McGhee, Pony Blues, Levee Camp Moan