537 Essential Rock Albums (I use the term loosely) – Number 20 – Son House


Weighing in at number 20 on my all-time list is the great Son House. Took me straight back to where it all began.

  1. 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!

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