Mon 30 May 2011
|Dan Beaumont Interview|
|Son House||I Want To Live So God Can Use Me||Private Recordings Vol. 1|
|Son House||New Pony Blues||Private Recordings Vol. 1|
|Son House||Son's Blues Pt. 1||Private Recordings Vol. 1|
|Son House||My Black Mama Pt. 1 & 2||Blues Images Vol. 2|
|Rube Lacy||Ham Hound Crave||Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues|
|Son House||Mississippi County Farm Blues||Blues Images Vol. 4|
|Charlie Patton||34 Blues||Primeval Blues, Rags and Gospel Songs|
|Son House||Preachin' The Blues Pt. 1 & 2||Screamin' & Hollerin' The Blues|
|Willie Brown||Future Blues||Masters of the Blues: Friends of Charlie Patton|
|Robert Johnson||Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)||The Centennial Collection|
|Muddy Waters||Country Blues (Number One)/Interview #1||The Complete Plantation Recordings|
|Son House||Depot Blues||Legends of Country Blues|
|Son House||Between Midnight and Day||Delta Blues & Spirituals|
Over the years I've done several shows devoted to Son House but this one is a bit special. Within a week or so after this show airs the first biography devoted to Son House will hit the shelves, Preachin' the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House, by Dan Beaumont. Dan is an Associate Professor in History and Religion & Classics at the University of Rochester. Dan is also a good friend of mine so I feel a personal connection to the book. I offered encouragement and helped by feeding Dan a steady stream of old documents and recordings and putting him in touch with folks who were instrumental in shaping the book. Since Dan began writing the book in 2006 and I've read numerous drafts so it was fascinating to see the book take shape and get better and better with each new reworking. While I'm certainly biased I feel Dan has done a terrific job on a complicated man. Son was born and came to notoriety in the deep south during the first decades of the 20th century when segregation permeated every layer of black life yet he attained regional fame, was revered by artists like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and after a long stretch of anonymity resurfaced to acclaim across the United States and Europe. It's a compelling story that Dan tells well as we read about Son's struggle between the church and the blues, his stint in Parchman, playing the juke joints in the small Mississippi towns with Charlie Patton and his life long friend Willie Brown, recording for Alan Lomax and his triumphant return after twenty years of obscurity. We touch on all that and more as Dan sits in with for the entire show as we chat and spin tunes by Son House and those in his orbit. I've written extensively about Son in the past (see the below links) so today I'll talk a bit about the music featured today with some quotes from Dan's book.
The book opens with a chapter called The Second Coming of the Son so we open the show with a trio of sides from Son's rediscovery period. These sides come from Son House Vol. 1 (1965 – 1970) issued on Private Records in 1987. This one, and the second volume, may be tough to track down but contain several very good performances including our opener, the a cappella "I Want To Live So Go Can Use Me" from a 1969 Seattle date, a superb rendition of "New Pony Blues" cut at Newport in 1966 or 67 and "Son's Blues Pt. 1" from 1968. "Pony Blues" was a number Son picked up from Patton. Regarding the song, Dan writes: "…Patton’s staple after 1910 was certainly blues. Evidence for this is seen in his two most famous songs, "Pony Blues" and "Maggie" both of which he was performing by the middle of that decade, by which time both he and those songs were already well-known throughout the Delta. Both songs were subsequently picked up and performed by numerous other Mississippi musicians, and their influence is only one aspect of Patton’s primacy in the Delta Blues."
Speaking of Patton we play his "34 Blues" which describes Patton getting kicked off Dockery's plantation and subsequently moving to Lula were he would meet Son, an encounter that changed Son's life dramatically. As Dan writes: "Plantation owners tolerated the presence of musicians like Patton since their popularity helped to appease the plantation work force—unless and until their presence became a nuisance. Witness Patton’s "34 Blues" which concerns his eviction from Dockery’s plantation when his womanizing began to cause too many disputes. Dockery’s plantation was 'way down in Sunflower,' as one of Patton’s songs had it, 'Sunflower' being Sunflower County, some forty miles south-southeast of Clarksdale. And it was in that vicinity that many of the places referred to in his songs are found, Belzoni, Carrolton, for example. However, some time probably in late 1929 he moved north to Lula, then a hamlet of perhaps four or five hundred people."
In interviews Son mentioned three musicians who influenced him, Willie Wilson and James McCoy who never recorded and Rube Lacey who cut one 78 in 1928, "Mississippi Jail House Groan" b/w "Ham Hound Crave", the latter number featured today. "According to House, McCoy taught him what would become his two most important pieces, "My Black Mama" and "Preachin' the Blues," the former apparently an a cappella song. …For the two songs House learned from McCoy became his two finest pieces. His versions of "Preachin' the Blues" and "My Black Mama"—later to be retitled "Death Letter Blues"—are both peak performances not only in Delta Blues, but in the realm of the blues period. So completely did House stamp his personality on the two songs that not even Robert Johnson's restyled recordings of them, as fine as they are, have ever replaced House's versions as definitive."
We of course play Johnson's "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped The Devil)" back to back with Muddy Waters' "Country Blues (Number One)" which he picked up from Johnson's record (we play a snippet of interview with Alan Lomax where he talks about the song in relation to Son and Johnson) )"Walkin' Blues" and Johnson in turned got the song from Son House. "Due to his live performances, the song was heard and learned by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Johnson lifted the riff from "My Black Mama" and set the lyrics of "Walking Blues" to that accompaniment. Waters seems to have worked from both artists. In any case, through those intermediaries, the song became the most covered piece among House’s recordings. …Since House's Grafton recording of "Walking Blues" was never released by Paramount (was only found in 1989 on a test disc) Johnson must have learned the lyrics from House's live performances of it in the Robinsonville area. Johnson basically straightened out House's musical accompaniment, in the process creating a song that would, by and by, become a blues standard. Johnson also recorded "Preachin' Blues," in this instance remaining closer to the House original. Since that record sold very poorly (only one copy has ever been found), it is likely again that Johnson learned the piece from House in person. It is apparent that Johnson also tried to emulate House’s vocal style."
|Son House & wife Evie, Newport Folk Festival, 1966
Photo courtesy of Dick Waterman
From the legendary 1930 Paramount session we play Son's "My Black Mama Pt. 1 & 2", "Preachin' The Blues Pt. 1 & 2", "Mississippi County Farm Blues" and Willie Brown's "Future Blues." From this session Son's "Clarksdale Moan" and "Mississippi County Farm Blues," were released as Paramount 13096, but only found a few years ago while Brown's "Kickin' In My Sleep Blues" b/w "Window Blues" (Paramount 13001) and "Grandma Blues" b/w "Sorry Blues" (Paramount 13099) have yet to surface.
In 1941 and 1942 House was recorded by Alan Lomax who was led to him on a tip from Muddy Waters several days prior. From the 1942 we spin "Depot Blues." "The recording was done in Clarksdale, and this time House performed alone for Lomax, recording nine more tracks: "Low Down Dirty Dog Blues," "Depot Blues," "American Defense," "Am I Right Or Wrong," "Walking Blues," County Farm Blues," "The Pony Blues," and two versions of "The Jinx Blues." As he had the previous year, Lomax also interspersed the music with interview questions. Many of them concerned Robert Johnson—in the intervening year Lomax’s interest in Johnson had, if anything, only increased—and House’s responses hit on the same major points he would make when interviewed in the 1960s; he emphasized Johnson’s rapid progress on the guitar, his good looks and his womanizing. He told Lomax that he suspected Johnson had been poisoned by a jealous woman."
We conclude our show with two tracks from his rediscovery period: "Empire State Blues" from the Father of the Folk Blues issued on Columbia in 1965 and "Between Midnight and Day" recorded in London in 1970 at the 100 Club and first issued on the album John The Revelator and on CD by Capitol as Delta Blues & Spirituals. "Dick Waterman wrote that House had offers from smaller record labels, but the release of the first Robert Johnson album on Columbia gave him hope that House might sign a contract with that label. House and Waterman met with John Hammond, Columbia’s best jazz and blues producer. Hammond was involved with, among other artists during his long career, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, Bill Broonzy, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The meeting produced an agreement, and House signed a contract with Columbia Records was for one record. It was a measure of the seriousness of the project that Hammond took it on. …The Columbia session was to be House's last studio recordings. The rest of House’s recordings in the period between 1965 and 1970 fall into three categories. Recordings that were usually part of compilations on other labels and consisted of live recordings made at folk festivals and coffeehouse appearances. Bootlegs and private recordings later issued with either the agreement of House or his estate."
-Dan Beaumont Feature (mp3, 2 hours)