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70 ı grew up in Detroit with a grandmother who loved all kinds of music. She loved gospel, and when she cranked up the old Magnavox console you could hear the sounds of Rev. James Cleveland, or the Soul Stirrers,or the Harmonizing Four all over the house. She also loved R&B and soul music. But perhaps more than any style, she loved the blues. I grew up listening to the likes of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins, B. B. King, and Slim Harpo. Somewhere along the line, I came to love blues as well. When I went to college at Wayne State University in the mid-’70s I found myself looking through bins of old records and re-releases, searching for my own tastes in blues. While I was in college, I got a job at Wayne State’s public radio station, WDET-FM. Working at WDET gave me access to its music library. That vast and eclectic mix of shows required a vast and eclectic collection of music to sustain them. In what was a relatively small room, on the fifteenth floor of the School Center Building where WDET was housed, was an astonishing record collection. Almost every known style of recorded music was represented there—classical (American and European), jazz (Dixieland, bebop, avantegarde , modern), blues (urban and country), country and western, bluegrass, R&B, Native American, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, African—it was all there. Every chance that I got, I would go explore that library. While I was interested in many kinds of Searching for the Son Delta Blues Legend Son House in Detroit Rev. Robert B. Jones Sr. Son House. © Stanley Livingston. 71 Rev. RoberT B. Jones Sr. music, the music that fascinated me the most was blues. If I asked nicely, and if I promised to take care of them and return them promptly, I was able to take some of these recordings home or to make tapes for my own use. This is the place where I first met Son House. In those days, before the coming of compact discs, each of the artists the radio station played would be represented by albums, LPs, which would be filed neatly and in alphabetical order. In the middle of the Hs sat an album titled Son House, Father of the Delta Blues. I think that part of what drew me to this album was the striking cover photo of a man wearing a Mississippi string tie and holding an ancient and battered National resonator guitar. This man looked like he could sing the blues, and you knew that his guitar could play the blues. You knew by just looking at it. There is a hierarchy of bluesmen. In those days before records, compact discs, and easily accessible recordings,blues was spread by sound and reputation. Every region had its own sound. Bluesmen from Texas would often try to model themselves after the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson. East Coast pickers would sound like Rev. Gary Davis or Blind Blake. In Mississippi, though, that model was Son House. In fact, young McKinley Morganfield, the man the world would later know by the name Muddy Waters,recalled going to a juke joint for three weeks straight just to see and learn from the great Son House. Muddy was once quoted as saying, “It was Son House who influenced me to play.Son House .. . was the best. Whenever I heard he was gonna play somewhere, I followed after him. . . . I learned to play with the bottleneck by watching him for about a year.”1 Likewise, a young Robert Johnson would follow House around from roadhouse to juke joint, just waiting for House to take a break so that he could grab his guitar and try to make the music that he had just heard. Then, a second generation of musicians, like John Nicholas, John Mooney, Alan Wilson, Stefan Grossman, and Rory Block, kept House’s music going. By the time House was “rediscovered” by the likes of Dick Waterman, his promoter and agent, in the 1960s,Son had forgotten how to play many of his own legendary songs. Fortunately, a young musician who would make a name for himself in a group called Canned Heat had so studied and learned House’s style and repertoire that he was able to teach House how to play his own material. Now, a third generation, including the likes of Jack White, Eric Clapton, Cassandra Wilson, and even Chuck D of Public Enemy continue to...


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