"It says in the Bible, the carnal mind is an enemy of God, because
it's not subject to the rule of God, to God's laws. And the carnal
mind... that's what the blues is all about. The blues looks for
Heaven on Earth, not a reward in Heaven. The blues says, `I'm
gonna do it now! I'm gonna get high and get laid and I'm gonna
play music!' And Son was a 100 percent carnal man..."
- Paul Risell
Eddie James 'Son' House, 1902-1988. At least, 1902 was the best guess for his birth date; some estimates put it at 1886.
Here are the two things that you need to know about Son House - first, he was the king-hell rabid white-eyed devil-tongued blues shouter of all time, and don't you forget it, neither. Second, Robert Johnson (yes, that Robert Johnson) considered House one of his biggest influences.
Really, House would probably be one of the most well-known and well-respected bluesmen ever if he had recorded more in his prime; as it stands, his few recordings are incredibly rare and are probably one of the most sought-after colletibles in music. His counterparts like Johnson or Charlie Patton are much better known in part because they recorded much more.
House is most known for his undeniable power. He didn't have talent on loan from Satan, like Johnson was rumored to have. He wasn't a showman - he was gloomy and downright mean at times. But when he'd get up on stage and start strumming his guitar, those eyes of his would just roll right back in his head, and he'd sing the Blues, righteous. He overwhelmed the audience with emotion. The only way I can describe his voice is that he knew, deep down in the bones knew, that he was the loneliest soul on this Earth, and he was a little pissed about the whole thing.
His prime was in the late teens to the mid-thirties, when he helped establish the Delta blues. His singing and his thirst for whiskey was legendary, and so was his temper - he killed a man in Mississippi and spent a year in the pokey (he pleaded self defense, and was released early). He had five wives, and he cheated on them all. He was a carnal man.
House dropped out of the music biz to be a porter in St. Louis in 1944. He was 'rediscovered' by blues researchers in the mid 60s, apparently, although there are a few stories of the actual rediscovery. One story says that a young blues historian named Alan Wilson (later of Canned Heat) found him and taught him to play guitar again (it had been so long, that he could barely play). Another story is that Dick Waterman, a producer of many blues records in the 60s, found him and got him to perform again. At any rate, House started singing again, full tilt, same power, same intensity, and didn't slow down until Parkinson's disease ruined his ability to play. All of his available recordings are from this period.
Son House died in 1988 from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. If he was truly born in 1886, then he lived until he was 102; truly a testament to the powers of hard living and hard drinking.