Donate to the Grapevine

Express your thanks by leaving the pirate a tip!

May 30, 2009

Son House - At Home: The Legendary Rochester 1969 Sessions


Don't worry, blues fanatics! I have not abandoned ye in favor of banjo-plunking cornheads. I still love crazed, semi-intelligible, barely-enunciated, heart-wrenching, soul-aggrivating, gut-churning blues from repentant revenants renewing their contentious creed through full-bodied antiharmonies. I have not forgotten you, though I have detoured.

Now, about this music. I have a contention, a bias if you will. Not all of you may be familiar with Indian Classical Music but to those of you who are, I'll say this: Son House was every bit as great a singer as Pandit Pran Nath, or whomever else you'd like to pull from the roster. He could slide the pants off most Veenaists (and I like veenaists). He lacked instruction, refinement and sophistication of technique, but made up for it all in power and soul. This is a heretical claim, to be sure, but it is true nonetheless. There are not only microtones in Son's notes, there are micro-feelings in his emotional scale. Redemptive and repulsive, reverentially profane - this is a music that draws you in as it kicks you in the face, a story which touches the ancient timeless epic sagas within your own soul, and looks to the world like a filthy drunk staggering under a streetlight, blathering on about some great folly that looms forever in his path. And wake up, because as pitiful and uncomfortable as this music is, it contains a truth that most people will never even dare to think. Something very close to enlightenment, very close to death. So pay attention, but don't listen with your mind, or you'll never get it.

Notes & lies & irrelevent details:
When back in 1964 Nick Perls, Dick Waterman and Phil Spiro searched the Mississippi Delta region for clues as to the whereabouts of legendary blues recording artist Son House, they first drew a blank. Finally, in Robinsonville - where Robert Johnson first played blues in a juke joint - they got a lead which eventually took them right back to New York State. In June of that year, they arrived at Son House's home in Rochester's riverfront Corn Hill neighborhood, almost a thousand miles from Mississippi! Son had lived here since 1943, soon after being recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax. Son had not performed blues for many years and was completely unaware of the international enthusiasm for the 10 sides he recorded for Paramount in 1930 and those he later made for Lomax. Although a little rusty at first, after practicing for some weeks he gradually relearnt his old guitar skills and his voice strengthened to the point where he was able to play concerts again. "When he played, his eyes rolled back in his head and he went somewhere else. Whether it was Robinsonville in the '30's or wherever, he transported himself back without any trickery and became the essence of Delta. He would then finish the song, blink his eyes, and then reaccustom himself to where he was at the time." - Dick Waterman, remembering Son House. By the time John Hammond of Columbia Records decided to record him in April 1965, he was singing and playing with such power and conviction that the years seemed to have rolled away, with some of performances rivalling those for the Library of National Congress twenty years before. The informal recordings of Son and his wife (who plays tambourine and gives a spoken message) on this CD were made by Steve Lobb at their Rochester home, just prior to Son's second European tour. They remind us of the remarkable return to music of one of the very greatest of all the many Mississippi blues singers.


Son House - At Home: The Legendary Rochester 1969 Sessions

Year: 1992
Label: Document

Review by Bruce Eder

Recorded at his home in September of 1969 by blues enthusiast Steve Lobb, Son House turns in one of the most vital and compelling performances available from his late career comeback. While the 1965 Columbia Records sessions require explanations about his age and extended retirement, there is no excuse necessary for the contents of this CD. Opening with the 20-minute long "Son's Blues," he radiates explosive power, his voice surging and his guitar strings snapping against the fretboard in a slow, fiery performance. The tension and sustained strength of this one piece makes this CD far more valuable as a specimen of Son's best work than any of the CBS material -- this is the perfect companion to his inimitable Alan Lomax and Paramount recordings of the 1930s and early 1940s. Nothing else here quite matches the opening track, although Son still seems in far better form than he did on some of his better-known comeback recordings.

Tracks:
01 - Son's blues
02 - Yonder comes my mother
03 - Shetland pony blues
04 - I'm so sorry, baby
05 - Plantation song
06 - Mister Suzie-Q
07 - Evening train
08 - Sundown
09 - Preachin' the blues
10 - Empire State express
11 - Never mind people grinnin' in your face
12 - Sun goin' down
13 - A spoken message

the dark at the end of the tunnel.
mp3 160kbps | w/ cover | 90mb

and thank Al 'Blind Owl' Wilson of Canned Heat fame for re-teaching Son House to play like Son House, and for taking Fahey's Veena and learning to play it.

7 comments:

dave said...

I'm no expert, but I know what I like (as they say), and Son House's The Original Delta Blues NEVER comes off my mp3 player: Death Letter Blues does it for me everytime. Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful-thank you.

Goofy said...

Thanks for this great post! Dave took words from my mouth; I'm no expert either, but I know what I like. Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker and Albert King, what else does one need?

Psicodelia pura said...

Awesome man!. Thanks!

Jeremy said...

Pirate, you are the mutt's nuts. Thanks for another corker!

Nicolas said...

Thanks !

As a blues fanatic I wasn't particularly worried and I knew the blues would rear its head someday.

Check out my blog river's Invitations if you've got the time

It seems we have the same taste for old music

dugg said...

THank-you so, so much for the chance to hear this.
d