Sunday, August 30, 2015

Journey To The Son

Dick Waterman's portrait of Eddie "Son" House, 
in the early 1960's

GEVA Theatre:  Here in Rochester, New York, an unusual event has taken on a festival atmosphere and it centers on a musical phenomenon called "the blues" and a particular exponent of this musical genre and that was the guitarist and vocalist Eddie "Son" House ( 1902 - 1988 ).  This was one of those rare moments that was years in the making - an event that was part music history, part theatre, part concert, and part exhibition.  I went for the music and stayed for the exhibition.

The musical part of this festival is a homage to the legendary blues master Son House, and on the night I attended, John Hammond, Jr. was on stage giving the audience an encyclopedia of blues songs and riffs on his guitars and harmonica.  He was stellar, and John Hammond, Jr. is no spring chicken, he has been around the block and the program for the evening mentioned the 4000 performances he has given since starting his career back when Son House was re-discovered.

GEVA Theatre had a condensed history of Son House

Son House came to live in Rochester in the 1940's, and he was one of thousands leaving the south in hopes of finding jobs and better odds in life.  There were benefits like good schools and an active church life, perhaps less stress and room for advancement.  Son House was a blues musician, but more than that - he was there at the beginning of this musical movement, then went into obscurity for years, and was re-discovered by a trio of guys who were bent on bringing blues music to a wider ( and more hip ) audience.

Dick Waterman was on hand Saturday evening to recall stories about his role in not only finding Son House living in an apartment building in the Corn Hill section of Rochester, but also about getting the man a guitar, and taking him out on the road to sing his songs and tell his truth.

It wasn't long after Waterman had connected with Son House in 1964, that he became the musicians' manager, and once they went out on the road to play gigs, people like me were shocked and surprised to learn that such a talent had been dormant for so many years.  I heard Son House play and sing outside of Bryn Mawr in 1965 and later that year he came to play a concert at my parent's house in Jericho, Long Island, at the request of my father, Arthur Singer.  My father was a jazz and blues collector, and we witnessed the rebirth of the blues.  We had Son House recordings from a period of time in the early 20th century when people like Samuel Charters made field recordings of the blues singers down in the Mississippi Delta region.  Son House would rise again.

In the center, Son House sings the blues
in Jericho, New York
I am seated at the right - winter 1966

Dick Waterman's photos were taken along the way at recording sessions for Columbia, and a festivals and dates around the northeast like the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.  Eddie "Son" House was a handsome, thin man, who ordinarily was very quiet, some would say shy, but not when he got his guitar on and his voice up to speed.  He had a slide guitar technique when paired with his National Steel guitar which would command your attention.  He was the real deal.

Dick Waterman had an exhibition of select photos at GEVA Theatre in Rochester, N.Y.
Here is Son House with the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, circa 1965