Son House – Forever on My Mind (Easy Eye Sound)
Stellar live recording of the Delta bluesman, previously unreleased
There is no music as raw and pure as that of blues legend, Son House. His unique voice, steeped from years in the church and working in the Delta, cuts straight to the soul. And, his slide guitar playing sends shivers down the spine.
Forever on My Mind documents a never-before-released performance at Wabash College in Indiana in November of 1964. It marks the earliest known recording of House’s “rediscovery” period.
House grew up in the Delta and recorded sporadically in 1930 for Paramount Records, but those records were not successful. In 1941, Alan Lomax taped House for the Library of Congress. Both recordings were reissued in the mid-sixties, and became part of the “folk-blues revival.” House was “rediscovered” by a trio of blues fans, including Dick Waterman, who convinced him to start performing again and became his manager.
Waterman owns these recordings and licensed them to Easy Eye Sound, run by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.
The title track, “Forever on My Mind,” has never been on a Son House album before, and features a moaning vocal, where he sings “I gets up in the morning / at the break of day / I be hugging the pillow / where you used to lay.”
Of the eight tracks from this sparsely-attended show (maybe 50 people), five of them would end up on his Columbia album, Father of Folk Blues, released several months later in 1965. Comparing these two recordings bring some interesting discoveries.
“Preachin’ Blues” is more immediate here, you can hear him breathing, grunting, clearing his throat, and his slide work seems to be channeling lightning. He also makes the crowd laugh when he sings “I wanna be a Baptist preacher / so I won’t have to work.” On “Empire State Express” he just sounds possessed and that descending guitar line is utterly hypnotic.
“Death Letter Blues” is slower that the frenetic, studio recording, but is just as chilling.
He also tackles “Pony Blues,” done by his contemporary, Charlie Patton, and the blues standard, “Motherless Children” (here, listed as “The Way Mother Did”).
The restoration work here is incredible. These recordings, almost 60 years old, and taken from 1/4-inch reels, sound phenomenal. And, although it’s a “live” recording, you rarely can tell. The album producers decided to fade each song out before any applause (either that, or they were not impressed with his playing, which seems highly unlikely!).
The set comes with in-depth liner notes, featuring quotes from both Waterman and Auerbach. It’s Waterman, who traveled extensively with House, that points out how special these recordings are, noting that later concerts featured the bluesman telling stories, and hamming it up with the crowd. Here, it’s just Son House and his guitar, with very little talking.
Lastly, the collection is heightened by the groovy picture of House in a Cardigan sweater on the cover.
Waterman has said to have many other recordings like these in his possession. Let’s hope more come out like this real soon.
Forever on My Mind is a fantastic addition to the legacy of one of the true pillars of the blues, Son House. —Tony Peters