Born near Lyon, Mississippi, March 21, 1902, Son House chopped cotton as a teenager while developing a passion for the Baptist church. He delivered his first sermon at the age of fifteen and within five years was the pastor of a small country church south of Lyon. His fall from the church was a result of an affair with a woman ten years his senior, whom he followed home to Louisiana. By 1926, House had returned to the Lyon area and began playing guitar under the tutelage of an obscure local musician named James McCoy. He developed quickly as a guitarist; within a year he had fallen in with Delta musician Rube Lacy and began emulating his slide guitar style. House shot and killed a man during a house party near Lyon in 1928. He was sentenced to work on Parchman Farm, but was released within two years after a judge in Clarksdale re-examined the case. Having been advised by the judge to leave the Clarksdale vicinity, House relocated to Lula and there met bluesman Charley Patton while playing at the Lula railroad depot for tips.
Patton befriended House, who began working as a musician around the Kirby Plantation. In 1930, Patton brought him, guitarist Willie Brown, and pianist Louise Johnson to Grafton, Wisconsin, for a recording session with Paramount Records. House's influence on the Delta School of musicians can be judged from a handful of recordings made in Grafton. His song "Preachin' The Blues Part I & II" was a six-minute biography of his life and served as inspiration for Robert Johnson's "Preaching Blues" and "Walking Blues." House's powerful vocals and slashing slide guitar style established him as a giant of the Delta School but did not lead to commercial success. House continued playing with Willie Brown during the 1930s and developed a relationship with a young Robert Johnson after moving to Robinsonville, Mississippi. After Johnson had learned to play guitar, he began to gig with House and Brown, learning the older musicians' licks.
House, Willie Brown, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, and Leroy Williams were recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax near Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, in 1941 for the Library of Congress. Lomax returned the next year to record House in Robinsonville, but the musician did not make another commercial record until the "blues revival" of the 1960s. His influence, however, would be felt through the recordings of Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and other successful blues artists.
Son House died October 19, 1988.
Last updated: October 27, 2017