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Author Topic: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)  (Read 5278 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« on: March 17, 2006, 10:29:18 AM »
The following is a letter to Derrick Stewart-Baxter of Jazz Journal published in September 1965 issue. I haven't as yet compared what DW reports about the Columbia session back then as to what he recalled in 1992 for the Columbia CD booklet - that would be unfair. ;D

Son House, that almost legendary blues singer, has been much in the news of late, with an article in Blues Unlimited and the space I gave to this quite remarkable artist in this column. It goes without saying that his discovery after so many years in the wilderness, was an event of considerable importance to all those interested in the country blues, but being so far away from the scene, it is almost inevitable that sometimes the true story becomes distorted — hence the fairy stories that have been woven around singers both past and present. I have recently received a letter from Dick Waterman, who manages Son House, and who is able to set much of the record straight, particularly concerning the Columbia recording session which I mentioned in a recent column. The letter is extremely interesting and I quote it in full, with due acknowledgement and thanks. DS-B
   'I have been reading recent copies of Jazz Journal and find various mentions about Son House that seem to have come via rumour, half-truths, myths and outright falsehood. I decided. therefore that, since I was one of the three who found Son last June, I am qualified to state facts and get things straightened out once and for all.
   'First of all, his recording. After he was found, there were immediate feelers from small companies, but I held them off while looking for a better offer. I told Tom Hoskins, then of Piedmont and currently of Bullfrog, that I appreciated his offer. Tom agreed with my position and urged me to go ahead and find the best deal for Son. Several larger companies came forward with offers once they heard that Son had not been signed. I should add at this point, that I secretly wanted Columbia for several reasons—their size, distribution, reputation, but probably mostly for their magnificent 'Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers' album put out by Frank Driggs. 'After several months of waiting for a Columbia offer, I finally called John Hammond at his home. He had heard that Son had been already signed. When he heard that Son was available, he told me to look for the best offer from any other company, and Columbia would better it. He further told me that Son would be recorded when, where and under what conditions I wanted. I could never have asked for a better offer.
   'The recording sessions were held on April 12-14 at Columbia studios in New York City. At no point did either Columbia or I consider using any sort of combo or group backing. It is rather an insult to John Hammond that he would suggest this, and many people owe him an apology. It is a solo album, except for backing on two cuts by a 21-year-old White boy from Cambridge by the name of Al Wilson. Al plays second guitar on Empire State Express and harp on Levee Camp Moan. Al never re corded before, but he has backed John Hurt, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Bukka White and many others. He is good, and the record will prove it. I shall not engage in any fights with purists who feel strongly against young white musicians backing Negro bluesmen. It is a foolish and senseless argument because, in the final analysis it is the sound which must be judged as good or bad.
   'I spoke to Columbia last week and the release date on the album is October. The notes and album photographs are prepared, and dealers have been told that the album is coming. I have heard the tapes, and they are even better than I remember them from the sessions. 'Let me once again stress the point that Columbia gave us what we wanted, where and when and how we wanted it. Dealing with John Hammond and Frank Driggs personally was a privilege and honour, because they took a real interest and an honest love in what they were doing. Huge companies are still made up of individuals, and these men are good individuals.
   'The matter of Horst Lippmann is a bit more complex. He called me at my home in March. I had sent a tape to his hotel in New York, and he had called after it. I explained that Son never travelled alone, and the tour would have to pick up my travel expenses as well. I told him that I had travelled with Skip James and John Hurt and others, and could look after the others as well as Son. He called me back a few weeks later from New Orleans, and said that if I didn't sign Son at his price, and without me going, he was going to sign Fred McDowell. He said that Son was completely unknown in Europe and, despite whatever had been written in Blues Unlimited and Jazz Journal, Son House was not going to be any sort of draw in Europe. Negotiations broke down at that point, and he signed Fred McDowell shortly after. Horst said that he wanted to wait and see how the Columbia record was selling, and he'd con tact me sometime next year.
   'Son House went on a ten week tour the first week in April and finished last week. He played in Boston, New York, Washington, Detroit, Chicago, Denver, Boulder (Colorado), Berekely (Calif), and in Los Angeles. He spent some time with John Hurt in Washington, met Lightnin' Hopkins in Los Angeles, and got a chance to see Howlin' Wolf again in Los Angeles after almost thirty years. He also met Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry last week at The New York Festival at Carnegie Hall. 'I might add at this point that a blues booking agency has been formed. I've talked over the idea with Tom Hoskins and Ed Denson for over a year, and they finally convinced me to go ahead with it. It is called Avalon Productions, 34 Parker Street, Cambridge, Mass. The name comes from the song via which Tom found John Hurt. The ten artists booked by Avalon are: Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Bukka White, Skip James, Robert Pete Williams, Big Joe Williams, Babe Stoval, Elizabeth Cotton, Rev. Robert Wilkins, and John Fahey. I would also have liked to have included Fred McDowell, but the communications problem between Cam bridge, where I live and Chris Strachwitz in Berkeley, and Fred in Mississippi, makes this impractical '.

norman

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2006, 03:59:23 PM »
once again you bring us interesting stuff.

Thanks for your time and efforts

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2006, 11:14:45 PM »
No problem, noticed it whilst searching for something else in Jazz Journal.

I have been asked privately why Waterman wrote to a jazz magazine rather than Blues Unlimited. I can only hazard guesses but although BU had been in existence for a year Derrick Stewart-Baxter's blues page in JJ had been in existence for since 1955 and was THE column to read and pass on news/info for likeminded folk. I know when I discovered the music as a teenager in late 1962 it was Jazz Journal and Jazz Monthly I subscribed to and even asked parents to order Xmas gifts of issues of both back to 1956. That great was my desire to read about the music I had just discovered. And I still have them!

Offline Johnm

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2006, 11:50:34 PM »
This is another really interesting piece, Bunker Hill--thanks for posting it.  It is amazing to think of Dick Waterman feeling pressured to justify the involvement of a musician of the caliber of Alan Wilson in the Son House recording for Columbia.  If people just judged by their ears rather than their eyes it would be perfectly apparent that if anybody ever had the musical goods, it was Alan Wilson.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2006, 01:49:28 AM »
This is another really interesting piece, Bunker Hill--thanks for posting it.  It is amazing to think of Dick Waterman feeling pressured to justify the involvement of a musician of the caliber of Alan Wilson in the Son House recording for Columbia.  If people just judged by their ears rather than their eyes it would be perfectly apparent that if anybody ever had the musical goods, it was Alan Wilson.
I take your point but who knew of the "caliber of Alan Wilson" in 1965? Certainly not blues fan in Europe, for us he was a name involved with the finding of Son House rather than a musician. It was those accompaniments on that House album, when finally released, that spoke for themselves justifying Waterman's approbation.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2006, 03:14:22 PM »
Hi all,
In a way, my point re Alan Wilson didn't even specifically pertain to him (though in this instance that ended up being the case).  What I see as being more of an issue was that for a certain percentage of Country Blues aficionados of the time, use of a young White musician to provide accompaniment for an older African-American player required justification on the face of it, or was simply unacceptable.  In the Jazz world, I know Ornette Coleman took a lot of crap for using the bass player Charlie Haden in his quartet, this despite the fact that no other bass player at that time understood or played Ornette's music nearly as well as did Charlie.  Racism, no matter in which direction it manifests, complicates and screws things up.
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2006, 11:35:35 PM »
Hi all,
In a way, my point re Alan Wilson didn't even specifically pertain to him (though in this instance that ended up being the case).  What I see as being more of an issue was that for a certain percentage of Country Blues aficionados of the time, use of a young White musician to provide accompaniment for an older African-American player required justification on the face of it, or was simply unacceptable. 
Indeed. From memory, news of House's first recording in 20 years was greeted by fans with moans that it wasn't to be totally solo like the first LPs of Hurt, James and Wilkins and House should have been "left alone". I can't recall how the LP was eventually received by Blues Unlimited, Blues World and the Jazz mags. Maybe I should go excavating.:) (Nothing stopped me from buying the LP the moment it was released in Britain.)

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2006, 04:12:10 AM »
Further to the above, I've unearthed my copy of the album and reacquainted myself with the sleevenotes (I could have saved myself the time since Stefan makes them available on his House page) in which Waterman goes to great lengths in almost justifying the inclusion of Wilson.

Muddyroads

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2006, 09:40:05 AM »
I have a CD of those Columbia recordings with a second CD of outtakes.  I remember when that LP came out.  It knocked my socks off.  Great story.  I met a bunch of those old guys just before going into the service.  When I got out most of them were dead or beyond playing anymore.  I spent some time with Babe Stovall when I was stationed in Mississippi.  It was in New Orleans and we jammed in a book store.  He was old time.

Muddyroads

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2006, 11:56:30 AM »
I spent some time with Babe Stovall when I was stationed in Mississippi.  It was in New Orleans and we jammed in a book store.  He was old time.
This is taking us rather off topic but the following page might be of interest to you in respect of Babe Stovall.
http://www.wirz.de/music/stovafrm.htm

Muddyroads

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #10 on: March 21, 2006, 05:33:11 AM »
Interesting link.  Babe recorded more than I was aware of.  He was more of a songster.  Not powerful like Son House, but no less real.  Getting to know him only slightly was a look deep into the old south to another time that was real hard and not that far behind.  You could see the pain and knowing behind the smile and clowning. He had an LP on Verve that he was selling back then. My copy always skipped but I listened to it anyway. 

Thanks,

Mud

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #11 on: March 21, 2006, 11:33:42 AM »
He had an LP on Verve that he was selling back then. My copy always skipped but I listened to it anyway. 
Yes, that the first one shown on the page. FWIW the only folk I know who still have that LP complain that it 'skips', so it may have been a pressing fault. Trust you double-clicked the pages of the booklet and magazine to read the articles.

revmac

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2006, 12:47:54 PM »
Watch this video a few moments and see Son House like you've never seen him pop onto the scene.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNDqDVGMx0c&search=Bukka%20White

This is a classic!

revmac

Offline Michael Cardenas

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2010, 11:47:58 PM »
Ornette Coleman took a lot of crap for using the bass player Charlie Haden in his quartet,
Yes he did and I think that contributed to the malignment of Haden's character later on regarding issues of temperment. To my ear his approach is almost violent within strict post-bop framework and I've always cherished hearing him in quartet or double-quartet form. I also feel the geek-card was drawn among detractors in an attempt to villify him.
LISTEN TO BLUES MUSIC

Offline Richard

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Re: Son House (Waterman told it like it was in 1965)
« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2010, 10:43:14 AM »
The clip has been pulled by Vestapol Production, I wonder wh they are  ;)
(That's enough of that. Ed)