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.
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 '.