Monday, January 16, 2012
Son House - Field Recordings Volume 17
03 - Walking Blues (Son House, Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Leroy Williams)
04 - Shetland Pony Blues
05 - Camp Hollers (Son House, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, poss. Willie Brown)
06 - Delta Blues (Son House, Leroy Williams)
07 - Special Rider Blues (test)
10 - Depot Blues
11 - Interview Demonstration of Concert Guitar Tuning
12 - American Defence
13 - Am I Right Or Wrong
15 - County Farm Blues
16 - The Pony Blues
17 - The Jinx Blues (No. 1)
18 - The Jinx Blues (No. 2)
When, in August and September, 1941, Alan Lomax, then ‘Assistant in Charge’ of the Archive of Folk Song at the Library of Congress in Washington, undertook a field trip to record in Coahoma County, Mississippi, he had already conducted a considerable number of such trips, initially in the company of his father, John Lomax, back in 1933/4. Travelling with him in their Ford car was his wife Elizabeth. Also taking part in the project were John Work, whose idea it was to study the black culture of a limited area in Mississippi or Tennessee in detail, and Lewis Jones, both from Fisk University.
Having made a series of religious recordings after their arrival in Mississippi on Sunday, 31st August, they visited the Stovall Plantation to record a young man named McKinley Morganfield, who had been recommended to them as a good bluesman. Apart from his musical contribution he was instrumental in guiding Lomax to where he could find former Paramount recording artist Eddie James ‘Son’ House. In an interview Muddy told Lomax and John Work that while he admired and was influenced by the recordings of Robert Johnson, his major inspiration was Son House.
House was now living on a plantation near Robinsonville, a small town in Tunica County on Highway 61, where he worked as a tractor driver. On weekends he fronted a country band that included his close friend, guitarist Willie Brown, who had also recorded for Paramount, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin, who played several instruments, including guitar and mandolin, and harmonica player Leroy Williams. On 3rd September this group was assembled at Clack’s grocery store at Clack, Mississippi. The store was chosen as a recording location because it was only one of a few buildings in the area that had an electricity supply. A railroad track ran close by and on two of the recordings a train can be heard - Son’s solo recording of Charlie Patton’s big hit on Paramount, Pony Blues and Walking Blues (with the band) which was based on one of Son’s Paramount recordings, which now exists only as a test pressing but may have been issued commercially.
The first three performances feature the full band supporting Son’s vocal. Levee Camp Blues (originally untitled) fades out during the sixth verse, presumably due to lack of disc space. The intention was to re-record it. However, Government Fleet Blues contains ten verses, only four of which appear (and then in different form) in Levee Camp so I prefer to think of them as related but distinctly individual songs using the same melody.
Fiddlin’ Joe Martin indulges is in his element, in exchanges with Son during the accapella Camp Hollers, capturing the sounds of the levee camps. Delta Blues, which only features Son and Leroy, was House’s personal favorite from the session and it certainly is an absolutely magnificent performance.
In 1942 the Coahoma County study was resumed. Alan Lomax rated Son House, as a blues singer, even above Leadbelly and so was understandably anxious to record him again. The long recording session in Robinsonville had, been extremely successful. It begins with a brief test of an un-named piece that sounds for all the world as if it was recorded for Paramount. Slide-guitar accompanied and with an insistent beat reminiscent of “My Black Mama” it is a great shame that only this fragment remains. The intensity of Son’s performance on Special Rider Blues and Low Down Dirty Dog Blues is almost overpowering. They are fully realized and virtually flawless examples of the finest Delta blues. Only a little lighter in tone, Depot Blues uses a melody similar to Willie Brown’s railroad piece “M & O Blues”. A few months before Son had composed a patriotic song about the War, American Defense with its gloomy message “This war will last you for years” but expressing confidence that it would eventually be won. Was I Right Or Wrong, a raggy non-blues, ends abruptly. Lomax noted that Son forgot the ending. Although the next piece was titled Walking Blues it was in fact a different song to that recorded in 1930 and 1941. Initially, he told Lomax that it was “The Girl I Love Is Dead” but then changed his mind. It is in fact the song that, after his rediscovery, Son called “Death Letter Blues”, which, over the years, had evolved from Part 2 of his Paramount recording “My Black Mama”.
When Son had recorded for Paramount he had been asked to record a song that employed the ‘beat’ and melody of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” and had composed a stark piece about serving time on the county farm. By 1942 considerable lyric revision had taken place, although the slide guitar accompaniment was retained. The 1930 original of Mississippi County Farm Blues has six verses whereas the Library of Congress version has only 4 (and none in common with the Paramount) but all are really hard-hitting.
Son’s 1942 treatment of Pony Blues, with its ‘clip-clop’ rhythm, seems closer to the Charlie Patton original. The two versions of Jinx Blues, one of Son’s most masterly pieces, are considerably different and certainly can’t be considered as ‘Parts 1 and 2’ as they have sometimes been presented.
It was extremely fortunate that Lomax revisited House when he did as the following year House relocated to Rochester in New York State, on Lake Ontario, and the opportunity to capture him performing at his magnificent best would have been lost.
original CD from sussex