Eddie James “Son” House (1902-1988) grew up around the Mississippi Delta, one of the homes of blues music. By his own account, as a “churchified” young man, he held the blues and other secular music in low regard. At the age of 25, he experienced a blues-related conversion and began a musical career.
His career was characteristic of bluesman of the time, which is to say not very lucrative. He served time in jail. He made a few recordings during the Depression. He was also recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941 and 1942. But much of his time can’t even be reconstructed with the historical record. The 1960s resurgence of interest in the blues, in particular the interest of white teenagers in Europe, made a lasting difference for the last quarter of his life and career.
Here he is singing his legendary “Death Letter Blues” in 1967, as part of the touring ensemble billed as “The American Folk Blues Festival.” This performance is preserved from its original broadcast on German television.
Ike Turner (Mississippi, 1931-2007), “Rocket 88” (1951). (Listen to the song here.)
Born in the delta region of Clarksdale, Mississippi, the Kings of Rhythm included Raymond Hill and Jackie Brenston on sax, Willie Kizart on guitar, Willie Sims on drums, Jonny O’Neal on vocals, and Ike Turner on piano. In 1951 they headed up to Memphis to record some of their songs, including a group of tunes by Turner. They recorded the boogie woogie meets jump blues “Rocket 88” at the Memphis Recording Service, a small studio where owner and producer Sam Phillips recorded local talent and then licensed them to independent labels. In 1952, Phillips renamed the studio Sun Records when he started putting out records on his own label.
As the story goes, Kizart’s amp was damaged in the groups trip up the delta, creating the distortion on top of what was already a pretty jagged guitar line written by Turner. After hearing Turner sing on a couple of other recordings, Phillips recommended somebody else sing vocals on “Rocket 88.” Saxophonist Brenston was chosen. When Phillips sold the single to Chess, he credited it to “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats.” The single went to #1 on the R&B charts later that year.
Some consider it to be “the” first Rock ‘n Roll sing ever recorded.
The legend Willie Dixon (Mississippi, 1915-1992) performing “Nervous,” sometime in the early 1960s.