Son House was one of the great Delta bluesmen – but twice in his life, events almost conspired to keep his music from public ears.
Son House (Amazon.com)
Born 110 years ago today in Riverton, Mississippi, House never planned to be a singer and guitarist. He had another career in mind: a religious one. House planned throughout his childhood to be a Baptist preacher, and the Baptist church of the early 20th century strongly disapproved of blues music and the debauched lifestyle that often went with it. A Baptist preacher most certainly would not play the blues in his free time.
But the call of the blues was strong – strong enough to sway House from his intended career path. He taught himself to play guitar and, after a couple years in jail for killing a man in self-defense (which may have only upped his blues cachet), he began performing.
In 1930, House recorded nine songs for Paramount Records, but times were tough, and the record didn't sell well. Eleven years later, Alan Lomax recorded House's work for the Library of Congress… and that was the end of his early career. He drifted away from music, unable to sustain himself with it, and took jobs as a truck driver, a railroad porter, and a chef.
That might have been the end of it, and Son House might have been just another singer who took a chance that didn't pan out, if it hadn't been for the folk music revival of the mid-1960s. Unbeknownst to House, young music fans were seeking out his rare old recordings and delighting in the raw blues sound he created. He soon relearned his songs and began touring and recording again. This time, the audiences' ears were open, and his legend was solidified.
In both cases, it's pretty clear who we can thank for lifting Son House from obscurity – the blues themselves. Their persistent, persuasive influence brought him to the music world once, and then it brought him back.
Written by Linnea Crowther