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Eddie James "Son" House, Jr. (March 21, 1902 – October 19, 1988) was an American blues singer and guitarist. House pioneered an innovative style featuring strong, repetitive rhythms, often played with the aid of slide guitar, and his singing often incorporated elements of southern gospel and spiritual music.

House was an important influence on Muddy Waters and also on Robert Johnson. A seminal Delta blues figure, he remains influential today, with his music being covered by blues-rock groups such as The White Stripes.


The middle of three brothers, House was born in Riverton, two miles from Clarksdale, Mississippimarker. Around age seven or eight, he was brought by his mother to Tallulah, Louisianamarker, after his parents separated. The young Son House was determined to become a Baptist preacher, and at age 15 began his preaching career. Despite the church's firm stand against blues music and the sinful world which revolved around it, House became attracted to it and taught himself guitar in his mid 20s, after moving back to the Clarksdale area, inspired by the work of Willie Wilson. He began playing alongside Charley Patton, Willie Brown, Robert Johnson and Fiddlin' Joe Martin around Robinsonville, Mississippimarker, and north to Memphis, Tennesseemarker, until 1942.

After killing a man, allegedly in self-defense, he spent time at Parchman Farmmarker in 1928 and 1929. The official story on the killing is that sometime around 1927 or 1928, he was playing in a juke joint when a man went on a shooting spree. Son was wounded in the leg, and shot the man dead. He received a 15-year sentence at Parchman Farm prison.

Son House recorded for Paramount Records in 1930 and for Alan Lomax from the Library of Congressmarker in 1941 and 1942. He then faded from public view until the country blues revival in the 1960s when, after a long search of the Mississippi Delta region by Nick Perls, Dick Waterman and Phil Spiro, he was "re-discovered" in June 1964 in Rochester, New Yorkmarker, where he had lived since 1943; House had been retired from the music business for many years, working for the New York Central Railroad, and was completely unaware of the international revival of enthusiasm for his early recordings. He subsequently toured extensively in the US and Europe and recorded for CBS records. Like Mississippi John Hurt he was welcomed into the music scene of the 1960s and played at Newport Folk Festival in 1964, the New York Folk Festival in July 1965, and the October 1967 European tour of the American Folk Festival along with Skip James and Bukka White. Son House can be seen in the documentary "The Howling Wolf Story". House and Howlin' Wolf had been close early in Wolf's career. However, in the documentary, when Wolf was performing a show during the 60's, House was drunk and making a lot of noise during Wolf's set. This angered Wolf who started telling House, from the stage, that all he cared about was whiskey and that he had had a chance to do something with his life but threw it away, to paraphrase Wolf.The young Alan Wilson ("Canned Heat") was one of Son House`s biggest fans. The producer John Hammond Sr. asked Alan Wilson, who was just 22 years old, to teach "Son House how to play like Son House," because Alan Wilson had such a good knowledge of the blues styles. The album "The Father of Delta Blues - The Complete 1965 Sessions" was the result." Son House played with Alan Wilson live. It can be heard on the album "John - the Revelator: The 1970 London Sessions".

In the summer of 1970, House toured Europe once again, including an appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival; a recording of his London concerts was released by Liberty Records.

Ill health plagued his later years and in 1974 he retired once again, and later moved to Detroitmarker, Michiganmarker, where he remained until his death from cancer of the larynx. He was buried at the Mt. Hazel Cemetery. Members of the Detroit Blues Society raised money through benefit concerts to put a fitting monument on his grave. He had been married five times.

Style and influence

House's innovative style featured strong, repetitive rhythms, often played with the aid of a bottleneck, coupled with singing that owed more than a nod to the hollers of the chain gangs. The music of Son House, in contrast to that of, say, Blind Lemon Jefferson, was emphatically a dance music, meant to be heard in the noisy atmosphere of a barrelhouse or other dance hall. House was the primary influence on Muddy Waters and also an important influence on Robert Johnson, who would later take his music to new levels. It was House who, speaking to awe-struck young blues fans in the 1960s, spread the legend that Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical powers.

More recently, House's music has influenced blues-rock groups such as the White Stripes, who covered his song "Death Letter" (also reworked by Skip James and Robert Johnson) on their album De Stijl, and later performed it at the 2004 Grammy Awards. The White Stripes also incorporated sections of a traditional song Son House recorded - "John the Revelator" - into the song "Cannon" from their eponymous debut album The White Stripes. Jack White of the White Stripes has cited his a cappella songs, like "Grinning in Your Face", as a large influence.

Another musician deeply influenced by Son House is the slide player John Mooney, who in his teens learned slide guitar from Son House while Son was living in Rochester, New York. Several of House's songs were recently featured in the motion picture soundtrack of "Black Snake Moan" (2006).

Describing House's 1967 appearance at the De Montfort Hallmarker in Leicester, Englandmarker, Bob Groom wrote in Blues World magazine:
It is difficult to describe the transformation that took place as this smiling, friendly man hunched over his guitar and launched himself, bodily it seemed, into his music.
The blues possessed him like a 'lowdown shaking chill' and the spellbound audience saw the very incarnation of the blues as, head thrown back, he hollered and groaned the disturbing lyrics and flailed the guitar, snapping the strings back against the fingerboard to accentuate the agonized rhythm.
Son's music is the centre of the blues experience and when he performs it is a corporeal thing, audience and singer become as one.


Son House's recorded works fall into four categories:
  • 9 songs recorded in 1930 for Paramount Records, for commercial release on 78s. Many of these were recorded as two songs with the same title, e.g. "My Black Mama" parts 1 and 2. See also Clarksdale Moan.
  • Alan Lomax's non-commercial recordings ("Library of Congress Sessions") in 1941 and 1942 - a total of 19 songs.
  • Studio recordings from 1965 and later following his "rediscovery"
  • Live recordings, also from this period.
These have been collected, issued and reissued in a baffling array of ways, some of which use the word "complete" in unexpected ways. The following list is partial and uncategorized.
  • The Complete Library of Congress Sessions (1964) Travelin' Man Cd 02
  • Blues From The Mississippi Delta (W/ J.D. Short) (1964) Folkways Records
  • The Legendary Son House: Father Of Folk Blues (1965) Columbia 2417
  • In Concert (Oberlin College, 1965) Stack-O-Hits 9004
  • Delta Blues (1941–1942) Smithsonian 31028
  • Son House & Blind Lemon Jefferson (1926–1941) Biograph 12040
  • Son House - The Real Delta Blues (1964-65 Recordings) Blue Goose Records 2016
  • Son House & The Great Delta Blues Singers (With Willie Brown,) Document Cd 5002
  • Son House At Home : Complete 1969 Document 5148
  • Son House (Library Of Congress) Folk Lyric 9002
  • John The Revelator Liberty 83391
  • American Folk Blues Festival '67 (1 Cut) Optimism Cd 2070
  • Son House - 1965-1969 (Mostly Tv Appearances) Private Record Pr-01
  • Son House - Father Of The Delta Blues : Complete 1965 Sony/Legacy Cd 48867
  • Living Legends (1 Cut, 1966) Verve/Folkways 3010
  • Real Blues (1 Cut, U Of Chicago, 1964) Takoma 7081
  • John The Revelator - 1970 London Sessions Sequel Cd 207
  • Great Bluesmen/Newport (2 Cuts, 1965) Vanguard Cd 77/78
  • Blues With A Feeling (3 Cuts, 1965) Vanguard Cd 77005
  • Son House/Bukka White - Masters Of The Country Blues Yazoo Video 500 :
  • Delta Blues and Spirituals (1995)
  • In Concert (Live) (1996)
  • Live At Gaslight Cafe, 1965 (2000)
  • New York Central Live (2003)
  • Delta Blues (1941–1942) (2003) Biograph Cd 118
  • Classic Blues from Smithsonian Folkways Smithsonian Folkways 40134 (2003)
  • Classic Blues from Smithsonian Folkways, Vol. 2 Smithsonian Folkways 40148(2003)
  • Proper Introduction to Son House (2004) Proper

Tributes and covers


  1. His date of birth is a matter of some debate. Son House himself alleged that he was middle aged during World War I, and, more specifically, that he was 79 in 1965, which would mean that he was born around 1886. However, all legal records place his birth on March 21, 1902.
  2. for further information relating to House's age

External links

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