Son House Biography

Eddie James House Jnr., 21 March 1902, Riverton, Mississippi, USA, d. 19 October 1988, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Brought up in a religious home, Son House was drawn to the ministry in his youth, and took up the guitar, and the blues, as late as 1927. Throughout his life there was to be a tension between his religious feelings and his secular way of life (including the playing of blues). In 1928 he served a year in jail for manslaughter (in self-defence). In 1930, he met Charley Patton at Lula, where he was spotted by a Paramount talent scout. House, Patton, Willie Brown and Louise Johnson travelled north to a memorable recording session, at which House recorded three two-part blues (together with one untraced record, and a test located in 1985). All were the work of an extraordinary musician. House was no virtuoso, but he brought total conviction to his performances: his ferocious, barking voice, driving bass ostinato, and stabbing bottleneck phrases blended into an overwhelming totality that, for all its impact on the listener, was fundamentally introspective.

In the 30s, House and Brown played widely through Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee, and House taught both Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson some guitar technique and the ‘Walking Blues’ theme. In 1941, following a tip from Waters, Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress located House at Lake Cormorant and made a number of recordings, including some hollers and three pieces which invaluably preserve House and Brown playing in a band with Fiddlin’ Joe Martin (mandolin) and Leroy Williams (harmonica). Lomax returned the following year to supplement the single House solo recorded in 1941; the results document the breadth of House’s repertoire, and catch him at the peak of his powers. In 1943, he moved to Rochester, New York, and had retired from music by 1948. When rediscovered in 1964, House was infirm, alcoholic, and barely able to play, but was fired by the admiration of his young white fans, and regained most of his abilities, recording a splendid album for Columbia Records, and providing an unforgettable experience for all who saw him in concert. All the intensity of his early recordings remained, and even when he was clearly in renewed physical and mental decline, it was a privilege to witness his music. He retired from performing in 1974, and lived in Detroit until his death.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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