Son House – “The Real Delta Blues” (1974)

One item on my “must-do” list any time I’m in Portland, Oregon is a trip to Mississippi Records. The small retail space/label is a treasure trove. You’re not going to find all those dollar bin records that seem to fill up 90% of the space in most shops, but instead an eclectic and surprisingly deep selection across a number of genres. If you’re willing to expand your horizons I guarantee you’ll come out of there with at least a half dozen records under your arms. And the prices… the prices… no gouging happening at Mississippi; their prices are always reasonable. Just remember to bring a pocket full of cash, kids, because they don’t take credit or debit cards.

I found this reprint of the 1974 Son House classic The Real Delta Blues (14 Songs From The Man Who Taught Robert Johnson) on the wall at Mississippi in pristine condition a few weeks ago. I’ve been infatuated with House for a while, ever since listening to Jack White talk about him on the documentary It Might Get Loud, but this is the first time I pulled the trigger on one of his recordings. Not only are the record and jacket perfect, but the label Blue Goose provides some deep and thoughtful liner notes on the back cover, the kind of thing you’d expect to see on the classic 1950s and 60s jazz records, which is a great primer on the man and his music. Farmer and preacher, railroad man and drinker, musician and killer (♠). Son House led a life, to be sure.

Blues is, at its best, simply a guitar and a singer, usually one in the same person. And that’s what Son House gives us on this collection of 14 tracks, all House originals recorded in the 1960s. With the voice of an older man (he would have been in his 60s when he performed these versions) the songs drip with soul. There’s nothing here keeping time, it’s just emotion poured out in words and a lonesome guitar. In other words, it’s perfect.

Blue Goose originally released The Real Delta Blues in 1974 and there appear to have been one or more subsequent re-pressings, though I’m not sure when these were made or if they’re bootlegs. I suspect mine is one of the later pressings. The important thing to note, though, is that the recording quality is outstanding, so if you’ve been thinking about checking out Son House, this is a great place to start.

(♠) Son House shot and killed a man at a party in 1928. The facts were a bit murky, and the shooting may have been in self-defense. Or it may not. He was convicted and sent to prison, but released early after less than two years served.

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