May 7, 2017
A lifetime of blues
Of all the old blues guys who were rediscovered in the 1960s, none changed as obviously and profoundly over the intervening years as Son House. In that Paramount Records recording up there, from way back in 1930, it's obvious he's a young man in the prime of his life. His voice is rich with vitality, his singing is strong and effortless. In 1965, when Alan Wilson was asked to help him remember how to play his own songs for the Father of the Delta Blues record, his voice was still resonant, but it wasn't youthful vitality that gave it its hypnotic power-- It was the sound of weariness coming out of that aged throat, as if the weight of the world was pressing on his shoulders as he sat in front of the mic.
Try playing these two songs together at the same time. You won't hear this dramatic a difference in the singing of Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin' Wolf, or any of House's contemporaries who were still performing in the 60s. As extraordinary as all of those other musicians were, this is what makes him the superlative representative of blues music. You don't even have to know anything about him to know that he lived what he sang. It's in his voice, or rather, what his voice became.