Son House: The Lost King Of The Delta Blues

“The Father Of The Folk Blues”, Son House, Jr, was a major influence on Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, and helped create the Delta Blues sound.

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Son House Blues

Intense is the one word that describes Son House (21 March 1902 – 19 October 1988)and his version of the blues. He was a major influence on Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, like both of them, when Son sang the blues you had to believe him.

Born Eddie James House Jr, his father played in the family brass band. House grew up on a plantation near Clarksdale. He was preaching in church by the time he was 15, as well as working a variety of jobs. He taught himself to play the guitar around 1923 and was soon playing house rent parties and local picnics.

Listen to the best of Son House on Apple Music and Spotify.

In 1928 he served time in the infamous Parchman Farm prison after which he worked with Charley Patton playing levee camps and country dances around Clarksdale, Mississippi. It was through Patton that Son House recorded for the first time. This was for Paramount Records in Grafton Wisconsin in 1930 where he was accompanied by Willie Brown; House cut a total of 10 songs of which 8 were issued.

Both men soon returned to the Delta, working at various jobs and playing at dances, juke joints and picnics throughout the rest of the 1930’s. House’s next recordings were with Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1941 when he did 6 songs at Lake Cormorant Mississippi; it was during the same few days that Lomax recorded Muddy Waters at Stovall’s Plantation. Lomax again recorded House in 1942, and it was soon after this that House left the Delta and moved to New York.

Son House "Death Letter Blues"

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Musically Son House was not heard of again until 1964, when he was rediscovered in a poor state of health, with a drink problem, living in an apartment with his wife of 30 years. When Bukka White played the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 he told Dick Waterman a writer, part time promoter and blues fan that House was alive and that White had seen him in Memphis.

Waterman decided to go in search of the blues, he takes up the story, “I gathered up two guys and came down to Mississippi in the summer of 1964. Looking back in hindsight, that terrible summer of Mississippi burning with Voter Registration and George Wallace running for President. Looking back over it – three Jewish kids had a yellow Volkswagen with New York plates, we had like no sane reason to be here but we came down and we were looking for Robert Johnson, Son House, Skip James, any of them we could find.

So we pretty much ascertained that Robert Johnson was dead and no one had ever heard of Skip James or anyone who played like him but we backtracked Son House. It turned out that Bukka’s story of seeing him in Memphis was bogus; he had made the story up. But we had got over into the area around Robinsonville, Lake Cormorant, a little north of Tunica on the old Highway 61 and we found an old man whose son had once been married to Son’s stepdaughter, Mrs House had children by her first marriage. So we found him and he said ‘Yes, I was once married to the daughter of Son and Mrs House’. Then we found her and we talked to her and she said, ‘Oh, yes, they came over to Detroit a couple of years ago’.

So now we are really excited and we know that Son House is alive. So we got someone on the phone, Son didn’t have a phone at that point, and he brought the man to the phone – Sunday June 21, 1964. So we said, ‘Are you the Son House that recorded with Library of Congress and recorded for Lomax? Did you know Charley Patton? Did you know Robert Johnson? Did you use to live in Robinsonville?’ And there was this long pause, and he said, ‘Who is this anyway? Yes, that’s me, I done all those things’. And we said, ‘OK, don’t go anywhere we’re on our way’. And he was in Rochester, New York. So we had come from Cambridge, Massachusetts, down to the Delta and turn around and went back up to Rochester, New York.“

Low Down Dirty Dog Blues

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Waterman helped Son House get back to playing the Newport Festival and signed to CBS and his album, “Father of The Folk Blues” gave him the opportunity to play in America and Europe. House was one of the creators of the Delta Blues sound, his emotionally intense voice is best summed up by Waterman, “If blues was an ocean distilled to a lake, to a pond, to a pool, to a tub, to a glass and ultimately to a drop, the essence, the very concentrate, this is Son House.” After spending the first few years of the 1970’s touring he again retired, to live in Detroit, he lived another 14 years and died, aged 86, on 19 October 1988.

To show you just how revered Son House was, by fellow musicians, Dick Waterman has the perfect story. “In June of 1965 Mr House and I went into Muddy Waters dressing room. One of Muddy’s sidemen poked somebody with an elbow and pointed to Son, to make fun of him. Now Muddy who was not a physical man at all, but Muddy quickly moved across and grabbed that guy and everybody turned around and their jaws dropped. Muddy pushed the man and said, ‘Don’t you be mocking that man’. And everybody just went ‘Wow’. And Muddy said, ‘Don’t you be making fun of him. When I was a boy coming up that man was King, you hear me? That man was King. Here you are mocking and making fun of him. If it wasn’t for that man you wouldn’t be here because you wouldn’t have a job because I wouldn’t be here. Don’t you ever make fun of that man.”

Looking for more? Discover the secrets behind Blues nicknames

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  1. Fraser McNeill

    March 21, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Loved the story. I am in awe of these guys. They made the music that has been part of my life. Total respect. And thank you.

    • uDiscover

      March 21, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      Fraser, we are too, and thank you for your kind comments

  2. Stef LCZ

    March 21, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    If you don’t know what the blues is, just listen Son singin’ John the revelator. There you can ear every one from angels to the devil… One of the greatest and most emotional singer ever.

  3. John Bean

    March 22, 2015 at 12:55 am

    maybe not in range but in scope an operatic singer » over a huge National steel sound.

  4. Richard

    March 22, 2015 at 3:21 am

    Son, Howlin, muddy , BB , when I play my guitar I sometimes just picture myself sittin on a porch on the delta and I start playin the ole slide from 1 to 15 positions filling in with the low e string. .. I can feel the 100 degree heat on my face, the smell of the river ..

  5. James

    March 24, 2015 at 8:06 am

    To add more insult to their discovery, if they had contacted Alan Lomax, he could have given them his address then and there, as he and Son stayed in contact throughout the 1940s and ’50s, beginning with Son’s request for more records of his performances, and during the ’50s, an invitation from Lomax to perform at an event (I can’t remember where off the top of my head) but it was a risky move to travel there for potentially barely enough money to get him back to New York. Though I believe Lomax had his own problems during this time.

  6. Tom

    June 17, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Robert Gordon tells that story about Muddy standing up for Son in his biography of Muddy titled Can’t Be Satisfied.

  7. Jim Krugh

    October 20, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    I have bern a fan since I heard a recording of Son House over 20 years ago. So many great tunes including John the Revelator. My personal favorite was Death Letter Blues.

  8. Vincent P Jones

    January 26, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    I love these old ‘Son House’ stories. Never heard this particular one, amazing stuff. He was just so revered by the people that understood his music. God bless sites like this that keep his music and memories alive. A true musical giant.

  9. James Strickland

    October 19, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    Saw him in 1968 when he opened a blues festival at a college in Rochester NY. St. John Fisher had Muddy, Butterfield and Bloomfield’s Flag on the same stage!

  10. Antje Dirksen-Post

    October 20, 2016 at 1:31 am

    When Son House had been rediscovered, living on Corn hill, a neighborhood in Rochester, NY he was quite gone with drink. So, Bob “Bear” Hite from Canned Heat, a real fan of Son House, came to live with Son and his wife and slowly but steadily taught him his own songs again.
    Cornelius Eady, a Rochester Poet was also a resident of Corn Hill at the same time as Son House and wrote a moving poem about the blues singer in one of his books.

  11. Buddy Lee

    June 22, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    The blues & alcohol seem to be real good pals, I never picked cotton, but as nine years old boy in the northeast of England , I picked taties , with a north east wind blowing across my backside. I done lots of time in high security uk jails, now in the twilight of my life , at seventy six years old, I am a self taught blues man, playing and singing, the blues and ” yep I lived the life ,” you do what you do . And you play the cards you get dealt . Saw my mother to day for her birthday , her 100 th birthday. Great day .

  12. Richard A Southern

    November 13, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    In the winter of 1965, I was a student at Wayne State University and the student concert promoters brought Son to the university to perform. It was not in the big auditorium/theatre but rather a smaller venue. To my surprise, the place was packed, and Son brought the house down. In fact, when he sang JOHN THE REVELATOR, the audience stood and cheered. Without missing a beat, Son started the song all over from the beginning. What an evergreen night that was for me.

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