Our Top 10 Son House Songs list presents the best Son House Songs like “Preachin’ the Blues,” “Walkin’ Blues,” “Son’s Blues” and many more. Born near Clarksdale, Mississippi, on March 21, 1902, Edward James House Jr. was the second of three brothers in a household that witnessed his parents separated when he was about seven years old. His father was a musician that first contended with the issue of alcoholism before cleaning himself up and turning to the church. As a result, he became a Baptist deacon. His influence played a key role in Eddie House’s commitment to Christianity and the church. He also loved music, especially singing.
Like Father, Like Son
As for Eddie’s mother, when his parents separated, she took him with her to Tallulah, Louisiana. When he became a teenager, he, his brothers, and his mother moved to Algiers, New Orleans. Throughout his childhood, Eddie had a distinct hatred of blues music and had zero interest in any musical genre other than the gospel hymns that were sung at his church. He also performed sermons on occasion at the church he attended at the time. However, he wound up sharing the exact same habits as his father that ultimately had him leave the church. He did, however, continue to preach sermons on occasion.
When he was nineteen years old, Eddie House married an older woman named Carrie Martin. Although this wedding took place in a church, his family strongly opposed the marriage. As a result, Eddie and his bride moved to Centerville, Louisiana. While there, he helped his father-in-law with his farm. However, it was not meant to be as his resentment of farming had him decide to move on. Leaving his wife and home behind, he took on a series of odd jobs in order to make ends meet. After his mother died, supposedly in 1922, House moved around often. Interestingly enough, one of his favorite jobs was at a horse ranch.
Ministering the Blues
When he was twenty-five years old, the hatred Eddie House had against blues music began to change. While in the company of his drinking buddies, he heard one of them play bottleneck guitar. For House, this was new to him and he quickly found himself drawn to a musical genre he went out of his way to ignore once upon a time. He even bought himself a guitar and learned how to play it from the man who sold it to him, Frank Hoskins. House learned how to play two of James McCoy’s songs, “My Black Mama” and “Preachin’ the Blues.” These wound up becoming a couple of signature songs that best identified Eddie “Son” House as a delta blues musician.
The gift of music seemed to come easy for House. Meshing the simple bottleneck guitar style he developed with his religious vocals, Eddie House had no trouble performing at the same professional level as some of the better-known blues artists at the time.
While performing at a venue in either 1927 or 1928, Eddie House was shot in the leg by a man who went on a shooting spree. The story had it House fired back and shot the man dead. As a result, House was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Fortunately, he only served two years before he was released as there was not enough evidence to confirm he did indeed shoot and kill a man. After his release, House was told to leave Clarksdale, Mississippi permanently.
After walking to Jonestown, House boarded a train and headed for Lula, sixteen miles north of Clarksdale. While there, he met Charley Patton, another delta blues musical artist that was also in exile. For Charley Patton, he was impressed by House’s showmanship and the two developed a friendship. In 1930, a representative from Paramount Records traveled to Lula, hoping to persuade Charley Patton to record additional material for the label. Accompanying Charley Patton at the recording studio were Son House, Willie Brown, and Louise Johnson.
While recording music in Grafton, Wisconsin, Son House recorded nine songs. Eight of them were released as singles but none of them were commercially successful. For the next thirty-five years, House played for Brown and Charley Patton without attempting to step back into a recording studio again on his own. After Charley Patton died in 1934, House continued his working relationship with Brown. In the meantime, House also drove a tractor for various plantations in the Lake Cormorant region.
In 1941, Alan Lomax recorded music for the House for the Library of Congress. That same recording featured Son House, Willie Brown, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin, and Leroy Williams. In 1942, Lomax and House continued to record together, this time for Fisk University. In 1943, House moved to Rochester, New York, and worked as a chef and railroad porter for the New York Central Railroad.
When a group of young record collectors approached House, they encouraged him to pick up the guitar and get back into the entertainment industry as a musician. Now performing in front of a mostly white audience in coffeehouses, concerts, and folk festivals, Son House was making a name for himself as a folk-blues singer and slide guitarist. He also began to record music again once he realized there was a blues music revival that was also accompanied by an international appreciation of his early recordings.
Not only did House perform in concert in the United States but also in Europe. Until 1974, House remained in the spotlight as an entertainer. When health issues began to take their toll on the man, he went into retirement again. He called Detroit, Michigan his home until the day of his death on October 19, 1988. His remains were buried at the Mt. Hazel Cemetery that later had a monument put on his grave after members of the Detroit Blues Society raised enough money through benefit concerts to pay for one.
Top 10 Son House Songs
#10 – Clarksdale Moan
“Clarksdale Moan” was a blues song that was first released as a single in 1930. Unfortunately, it failed to make a commercially successful impression at the time. It wouldn’t be until 2005 that a record collector discovered the original recording in decent condition. In 2006, via Yazoo Records, it was released as one of the many rare blues recordings from the Great Depression era. Considered one of the holy grails of lost blues recordings, “Clarksdale Moan” was Son House’s account of what happened to him in that community before he was forced into exile.
#9 – Pony Blues
Originally recorded and credited to Charley Patton, “Pony Blues” was a 1929 recording that has since been covered many times over by a long list of recording artists. Son House, who performed and recorded with Patton in 1930, released his own rendition of this song in 1976. From the album, The Great Bluesmen at Newport, House’s performance served as a reminder of why Patton saw so much potential in a man he recruited as part of his recording crew while signed to Paramount Records.
#8 – Make Me a Pallet on the Floor (featuring Willie Brown)
“Make Me a Pallet on the Floor” was a folk song that fused blues and jazz together in what a music historian believed was of New Orleans origin from the mid-1890s. Since it was first recorded in 1917 by W.C. Handy, there have been several recordings and renditions of this song. While Son House performed and recorded with Willie Brown during the summer of 1941, “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor” was Brown’s only released single as a solo artist. According to music historians, their combined performance defined what the heart of delta blues was all about.
#7 – Country Farm Blues
In 1942, “Country Farm Blues” was a song Son House shared about his experience while working on the Mississippi-based plantations. This was credited as one of the most significant Alan Lomax recordings as House would relocate to New York and retire from the music scene for about twenty years.
#6 – Grinnin’ In Your Face
1965’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face” was a song that was enough for any heart to feel the pain as Son House’s hoarse and expressive lyrics served as an infectious delight. Folk music met with the blues, was a House specialty that immortalized the man as king in the eyes of the young fans who shared far more appreciation for his brand of music than the limited fan base that existed in the 1930s.
#5 – Pearline
From the 1965 album, The Legendary Son House: Father of the Folk Blues, “Pearline was a recording that featured House at his best. Even at sixty-three years old, he was able to produce his trademark metal box sound of sliding guitar as if it was a snake on the hunt. Crude and emotional, House’s brand of music served as an inspiration that deservedly gave him recognition as the father of folk blues music.
#4 – Son’s Blues
“Son’s Blues” served as a twenty-minute blues masterpiece by Son House. His explosive performance featured his vocal talent burst forth as an emotionally powerful number. The guitar strings snapped into a slow and fiery performance that made this 1969 recording an all-time cult classic. Even though House was seventy years old when he performed “Son’s Blues” as he preached his brand of the blues, the quality of this recording suggested the fountain of youth was alive and well in him.
#3 – Walkin’ Blues
“Walkin’ Blues” became a blues standard long after Son House wrote and recorded it in 1930. Despite the fact it remained unissued, it was one of House’s signature tunes. It was also influential enough to be covered by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters with their own versions. In 1941, there was another version of this song was performed by House that was titled “Country Blues.” This was when he had his first field recording session with Alan Lomax. This served as the bases for his first hit, “(I Feel Like) Going Home” in 1948. Lomax’s recording of “Walkin’ Blues” was the closest to House’s original, which was released in 1950.
While there were several songs that were titled “Walking Blues” prior to 1930, none of them had any relation to House’s original 1930 recording. House did, however, use common lyrics that were found in early blues songs he’d record while at a Paramount Records recording session. Although the studio did make a test pressing, the song remained unissued and lost until 1985.
#2 – Death Letter
Either as “Death Letter” or “Death Letter Blues” this became the signature song for Son House. It was structured by a 1930 recording of “My Black Mama, Part 2.” This 1965 performance used a metal-bodied guitar, as well as a copper slide. This was regarded as one of the most stunning laments of a delta blues song ever recorded by any artist Singing as a man emotionally distraught over the loss of his love interest, House shared how he received a letter first thing in the morning before viewing her body at the morgue. After her funeral, the depressed narrator returns home having to contend with the void of his loss.
Whenever Son House performed live, “Death Letter” was one of the most popular songs during the 1960s blues revival period. While in concert, the song sometimes was played more than once but with altered lyrics and tempo. Now considered a blues standard, “Death Letter” has since been covered by a long list of popular recording artists, regardless of genre.
#1 – Preachin’ the Blues
In 2017, “Preachin’ the Blues” was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. This song defined who Son House was as a person and as a recording artist. This song was recorded in 1930 while House accompanied his friend and mentor, Charley Patton to Paramount Records in Wisconsin. As the son of a minister, House reached a pivotal moment in his life that embraced a musical genre he previously thought was devil’s music. As a blues musician, House expressed who he was as a man of faith which still resonated in the songs he performed as an artist.
The song served as a confession as House admitted his desire to serve the Lord was hindered by the temptations of the flesh he wasn’t able to overcome. Some of House’s fans took this song in as a form of prayer, especially among those who also had to contend with alcoholism and leading promiscuous lifestyles.
Top 10 Son House Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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