Today we look at two bluesmen who were born in 1902 – Son House and Skip James.
In the years before World War II, Son House created some of the purest, most powerful Mississippi Delta blues on record. Playing with partners Charley Patton and Willie Brown, he exerted a profound influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, both of whom copied his music and carried it to new generations. House’s influence still echoes through the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and many other musicians. In many respects, he is the true father of “deep blues.”
…Even more compelling than his guitar playing, Son House’s voice really caught attention. Be it a window-rattling, impassioned plea like “Levee Camp Moan” or transcendent a cappella gospel like “John the Revelator,” it came from somewhere deep within his psyche. For sheer strength of delivery, he was on a par with Bessie Smith, Blind Willie Johnson, and precious few others, and every note he sang was uniquely his own. Original and uncompromising, House’s blues are intense, anguished, and as powerful as any recorded. Small wonder that as young plantation hands in the 1930s, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters were mesmerized when they saw him perform. Waters, for one, gave credit where credit was due.
Son House also did some preaching. In the clip below we have Bonnie Raitt joking “There’s Ghandi, and then there’s Mandela, and then there’s Son House,” House talking a bit, and some clips of House performing during the “Blues Revival” of the 1960’s.
Skip James not only shared his year of birth with Son House but was also a preacher. He was also “rediscovered” during the Blues Revival. At his peak his popularity was hindered by the Great Depression and his relative popularity during the Blues Revival came to an end when he died of cancer in 1969. His song “I’m So Glad” was covered by Cream.
His high-pitched falsetto is an acquired taste, but if you listen to Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues in a passive, mellow mood it will carry you away.