Recommended Albums – Son House – Death Letter Blues

537 Essential Rock Albums cover

This was number 20 in my book.

Son House – Death Letter Blues
Son House started it all. He taught Robert Johnson how to play. He was king back in the early thirties. That Mississippi bottleneck country blues played on that old beat up steel guitar created a sound that was going to beat its way all down the years to infuse Rock ‘n’ Roll and start up a revolution.

Son House was a leading exponent of the style. His playing was raw, sloppy and incredibly powerful. His anguished singing was equal to it. I was fortunate enough to see him perform even though he was an old man. As soon as he started playing it was as if someone had plugged him in to the mains. The energy shot through him and cauterised us. I have never experienced such a transformation and so much ferocity. The opening chords to ‘Death Letter Blues’ were like a thunder-clap!

This album was made after his rediscovery in 1964. He was already old and had to relearn the guitar and his own songs. You’d think it would be an insipid shadow of his old power but it wasn’t. It was awesome. The playing was crystal clear and startling. ‘Death Letter Blues’ is enough to send the hair standing up to the ceiling. He still had it in Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts.

Hearing him play was a revelation. The album had other great tracks like ‘Pearline’ and ‘John the Revelator’ but who needed more. This was plugged straight back into those steamy Mississippi nights.

This is a glimpse of where it all began. Heaven knows what he would have been like to hear as a young man! It must have been frightening!


3 thoughts on “Recommended Albums – Son House – Death Letter Blues

  1. Is there any truth that Memphis Minnie taught Robert Johnson and that the whole devil myth was made because of the fact that he did not want to admit that a Woman knew, and taught him what she knew?

  2. I’ve never heard that one Ted. I do know that the whole crossroads/devil myth was around a lot at the time and applied to a number of people. It was, I suspect, merely attached to Robert just like all the other weird tales. His incredible technique and virtuosity caused a lot of gossip. I did read an account that suggested that the recorded tracks were being played at the wrong speed and should be slowed quite a bit which would make the voice lower and the guitar slightly less difficult to play.

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