Professor Dan Beaumont presents Son House, June 15, 2009


RGC at the Mez

It’s Monday, June 15, 2009—At six o’clock the doors open at The House of Hamez Coffee House, and I am the first Club attendee through the door, with my brother and father in tow. We order a couple of sandwiches and drinks, sit down with some guitars and begin to fiddle around. Soon after, another attendee came and sat next to us. He commented on our playing, and we began talking about our favorite artists, songs and various topics as more people came to see the presentation scheduled to begin at seven o’clock. Kinloch Nelson showed up and played a little twelve-bar blues ditty with my father. Their differences in skill level were very apparent, but both had big grins on their faces. By the time we were all ready to start, the room held approximately twenty people. Most of whom were eating some kind of finger food, and all were talking about a guitar related subject of some kind or another. Kinloch quieted the dull roar of the room and gave a brief introduction to the night’s presenter, Professor Daniel Beaumont.


Professor Beaumont

Dan began by telling us a little about himself. He is currently an associate professor at the University of Rochester teaching Arabic language and literature. His interest in the blues led him to a desire to teach it. He was pointed in the direction of Eastman Professor David Headlam who also shares an interest in the subject, and together they created a course syllabus. He started teaching his class on the history of the blues in 2001. He is also an author and documentarian. Relative to the blues, he made a documentary about Rochester blues man Joe Beard entitled “So Much Truth” and has just finished the manuscript which will become the book “Preachin’ The Blues: The Life and Music of Son House.”

The professor began to tell the group of the long and winding road leading to his current involvement with the Son House project—how he got started with the popular rock artists of the late sixties and found himself listening to the people that influenced them, a sort of regression. He gave the example of the Rolling Stones. He liked them and found that they were influenced by blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Robert Johnson. If we regress even further, we will find that Son House was a major and direct influence on both Waters and Johnson. The more he heard of his great influence on so many pivotal musicians, and of his legendary recordings, the more interesting a figure House became.


Son House

We find that Son House was born approximately March 21, 1902 in Riverton, Mississippi. Professor Beaumont said that House’s life was one of “dramatic reversals.” A lot of blues musicians pick up preaching after they are done with their blues careers. House actually started preaching at the age of fifteen and then around 1924 he developed an interest in the blues despite the church’s firm stand against it. (they actually referred to it as the devil’s music) In 1928, he shot and killed a man. He later wrote a song about the incident. He was convicted and served his time at Parchman Farm prison in Mississippi. House then got a recording deal with Paramount Records in 1930, which turned out to be anti-climactic due to the Great Depression. He recorded again for Alan Lomax from the Library of Congress in the early forties. Then, Dan quotes directly from his book; “In 1943 Son House left Mississippi, and, for all that is known of his life over the course of the next twenty-one years, he may well have fallen off the face of the earth. But this he did not do—instead he did the next best thing. He moved to Rochester, New York.”

He was rediscovered in Rochester, where he had been living since 1945. Beaumont told of Nick Perls, Dick Waterman and Phil Spiro’s stereotypical sixties cross country trip in a red Volkswagen to locate the delta blues legend. Little is known about House’s actual journey to Rochester, but after he was located, he jumped back into the music scene and was musically active and touring until his retirement in 1974, when he moved to Detroit, Michigan. He remained there until his death in 1988.

During the filming of his documentary on local blues legend Joe Beard, Professor Beaumont found that Joe was Son House’s neighbor here in Rochester for close to thirty years and was a great influence on him. Joe gave a lot of insight into who House was as a person and as a musician. Another person that was close to him and was a great contributor to the project was Armand Schaurbroeck of the House of Guitars’ fame. Armand owned a club in the late sixties called The Black Candle (it would later be called Studio 9) where House used to perform. He told Dan that House warmed up to him a little bit more after he found out that he had served time in prison in his youth. It was almost like he related better with him because of it. All personal accounts lead Dan to the same conclusion; House was a very real and genuine person: He wasn’t much about an image, or anything like that. He let his music do the talking, and it spoke to a lot of different people.

—Mark Grover

Photos, R. Taglieri, M. Grover

Watch a YouTube video of House playing a version of Death Letter Blues.

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