DOCD-5690 Field Recordings Vol. 17: Son House – Library of Congress Recordings 1941-1942
Son House; vocal, guitar.
Includes: Willie Brown, guitar; Fiddlin’ Joe Martin, vocal, speech, mandolin; Willie Brown, guitar; Leroy Williams, harmonica.
Genres; Country Blues, Mississippi Delta Blues, Bottleneck-slide guitar.
Extensive booklet notes by Bob Groom, with previously unpublished information.
Extracts abridged from this CD’s booklet notes;
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.
They visited the Stovall Plantation, Mississippi, 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.
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).
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. 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. 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”.
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.