Son House – The Complete Library Of Congress Sessions 1941 – 1942
Jasmine Records – 2021
22 tracks; 76.56 minutes
Eddie ‘Son’ House was born in 1902 and came somewhat late to the blues, having been brought up in a strict religious household. After moving to Algiers, Louisiana, he took up preaching and only discovered secular music in his mid-twenties. He developed rapidly, however, after meeting Charlie Patton and became an influence on Robert Johnson.
He first recorded in 1930 at Paramount but the three singles that resulted did not sell particularly well. His next recordings were the ones featured here, two sessions recorded for the Library Of Congress by famed music chronicler Alan Lomax. The first session took place in August 1941, at Klack’s Store in Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, selected because it had electricity but it was also by a railway line and you can hear a passing steam locomotive on one track!
The second session was at Robinsonville, Mississippi the following July (without railway sounds). This material was released in the 1990s by Travellin’ Man Records but has been out of print for years, so this is a welcome reissue on CD. Three tracks have been added from the 1930 sessions to complete the CD which, as usual with Jasmine releases, contains informative sleeve notes by Bob Fisher whose recent death leaves a huge hole in the blues writing world.
On the Klack’s Store recordings Son is joined by Willie Brown who adds vocals on two tracks and guitar on four, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin adds vocals on two tracks and mandolin on four and Leroy Williams plays harmonica on four cuts; Son is on vocals and guitar on all tracks except two on which Willie plays guitar alone. All songs are credited to Son though many are based on traditional field hollers and work songs and listeners will recognize snippets of the lyrics from all over the blues world, reinforcing the influence that Son’s original recordings have had. The first three tracks are all quartet performances with two guitars, harp and mandolin. Son’s vocal style is said to have been developed from his declamatory preaching style and his vocals here are particularly impressive. On “Fo’ Clock Blues” and “Camp Hollers” he leaves guitar duties to Willie Brown and the pair and Leroy Williams offer spoken exchanges during the songs. Son introduces Leroy at the beginning of “Delta Blues” which they perform as a guitar/harp duet.
The Robinsonville session is just Son on guitar and vocals but the style remains much the same. Considering their age, the recordings sound OK; a little hiss and crackle here and there, but you certainly get to hear Son’s commanding vocals. After a false start, “Special Rider Blues” will sound familiar, as do several of the songs, the lyrics of which have been recycled many times since these recordings.
Son plays slide guitar on some of these tracks, notably “Low Down Dirty Dog Blues” and there is a curious inclusion entitled “The Key Of Minor” which appears to be a short studio discussion about rising and falling chord sequences between Son and Lomax. That precedes “American Defense” which moves away from the blues and is clearly about the Second World War. The short “Am I Right Or Wrong?” explores how it felt to be a man of color in Son’s lifetime. “The Jinx Blues” is in two parts, probably intended to fill both sides of a single, and runs to an impressive eight minutes in total.
The final three tracks come from the Grafton, WI, 1930 session and the sound quality is definitely inferior. “Preachin’ The Blues” is another two-parter and will be familiar from the opening line “I’m going to get me religion, I’m going to join the Baptist church. I’m gonna be a Baptist preacher and I won’t have to work”. The final track is the original recording of “Walking Blues” which every blues fan will know and aficionados will be pleased that this is the earliest of three versions of the song included here, allowing us to compare solo, duo and quartet performances.
Every blues fan should have heard these originals and this release offers that opportunity to anyone who does not own Son House’s early recordings.