(1902 – 1988)
A onetime preacher who turned to secular music, Son House ranks among the most influential Country Blues singers of the prewar era. He had two distinct periods as a performer – in the South during the 1930s, and then in the North beginning in 1964, where he was embraced as part of the Folk revival.
Eddie James “Son” House Jr. was born in Mississippi, where his parents worked the cotton fields. As a youngster House was drawn to religion and was said to loathe secular music; in his teen years House found regular work preaching sermons. He did not embrace the Blues until the age of 25, when his drinking and womanizing caused his fall from the church.
House was inspired by the many bluesmen that performed regularly in the Delta. He was a quick study and swiftly became proficient playing bottleneck slide guitar, matching his instrumental skills with a raw, passionate vocal delivery. He began busking and entertaining at house parties, but his musical efforts were derailed when he shot and killed a man (House alleged self defense) at a juke joint in 1928 and spent two years laboring at Parchman Farm. On his release House met influential bluesman Charley Patton, who introduced House to Art Laibly of Paramount Records.
In 1930 House recorded nine songs for Paramount. None were big sellers but the recordings packed an emotional wallop that inspired many younger bluesmen, including Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, who both cited House as an influence. Another fan of House’s Paramount sides was Alan Lomax, who recorded House for the Library of Congress 1941.
House faded from view soon after, quitting music and settling near Rochester, NY. He was living there in 1964 when he was tracked down by some young Blues fans who pulled him out of retirement. Embraced by mostly white Folk revival audiences, he began performing again, playing the Newport Folk Festival, touring Europe and recording some new material for CBS Records. He performed regularly until his health declined in the mid 1970s. He died of larynx cancer in 1988.