I have often felt surrounded by brilliant writers and other artisans, myself except for the occasional lyric, song, performance and on occasion, public speaking, just adequate and often not.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for when I hit the proverbial “bell”, a measure of quality, but in truth I so often cringe at foot-in-mouth statements in my quest to communicate something I think important to a person, group or the world (say, via the Web) that… well… this:
I actually think I -somewhat- recognize great writing, but in poetry and prose I’m not at all sure. I mean that as a fan. Like most Americans I was taught English in U.S. schools, did the work and actually tried to grasp good writing, read more prose and poetry than most know I do, but it’s like comparing myself to Hendrix or Phil Keaggy. My honest self-assessment is I’m often utilitarian as a guitarist.
Please DO NOT write and tell me how much what I offer means to you -I’m already loaded up most weeks with people who say such things, and although I appreciate that “this treasure is in earthen vessels”, plenty of mud here. So why? Why communicate so very much (and I surely do that!)?
I am determined to “leave it ALL on the field.” And no, nobody knows but God and myself how many songs, lyrics, blog posts (or partially finished), photos, a very little poetry and a bit more prose sits on my computer hard drives or email backups THAT YOU’LL NEVER SEE because I don’t truly think them worth sharing in public.
Yet -as Peter said re. his eventual demise, he wanted to be sure that which would build people up, encourage folks, be a blessing at least to some of them spiritually would be available after the Lord called Him home. That’s it for me, nothing more nor less.
Truth: I am happy, truly happy with a fresh little online book/booklet I’ve been working on for a couple years. Here is the link and as always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn
Urban, Suburban, Country man City, rural Lady -whoever Ma’am Out on the Jerico road (2x)
They jumped you baby Took what you had An ordinary day Turned badder then bad Out on the Jerico road (2x)
Priest, Levite, walked on by Samaritan dude got a tear in his eye Out on the Jerico road (2x)
Two kept going, only one stopped Helping the beaten one left there to rot Out on the Jerico road (2x)
I been the Priest, the Levite too Samaritan- left for dead blue Out on the Jerico road (2x)
Optional ain’t it- which one we’ll be Love an’compassion is costly indeed Out on the Jerico road Out on -name any road
Most of us know the story Jesus responded with when a dude wanting to (note) “justify himself”… asked Him about loving his neighbor. “So who is my neighbor”?
Jesus might have used a different human example as a metaphor in our time and place. He could have replied “A certain Republican” or “Democrat” or “Black”, “Asian”, “Indigenous”, “Rural”, “Urban”, “Suburban” person -and any of them could have been the hero.
Jews hated Samaritans and they had their reasons to not “love their neighbor” as themselves. Jesus blew down that wall and in part that added to the pile of issues that got him hated by those in power finally leading to His own crucifixion.
From an Evangelical Covenant Church study I’m partaking in re. the Luke 10.25-37 text:
“To love God means to show mercy to those in need. This is true even when your neighbor treats you as strength, and we love our neighbor as ourselves. It requires both, not either/or. This passage illustrates that our neighbors are not determined by geographic proximity, ethnicity, race, social statues, or country of origin; our neighbors include everyone made in the image of God.” lSource: The Kingdom Mosaic Life Together Series, ECC]
So what human being born on the earth was not created in God’s image? Selfishness and personal cost do not justify us.
Love, on the other hand, reflects the heart, soul, strength and mind of God.
My friend Joe Filisko is in my opinion –still– far too unknown to music and especially harp lovers and students -although he’s massively known, influential and accredited by harmonica masters world-wide.
As I may embarrass him even in this next quite abbreviated paragraph, I’ll list just a few core bits of information about Joe and then go straight into interviewing him adding only a few online educational and yep, fun links at the end.
Joe Filisko is “a harmonica player’s harmonica player”, regularly cited as the most expert on post war (WWII) harp aces and their nuances in detail. He’s taken many trips to his birthplace (Germany) and elsewhere in deep study of his favored instrument. I often tell folks Joe has forgotten more than most of us will ever know about the “metal sandwich”. He and roots-music singer/songwriter/guitar-and-dobro partner Eric Noden have toured a large part of the world bringing music to often packed-houses. He has developed his own harmonica tuning system and more… the man is a harp genius, a humble and generous man and beyond all else he loves to teach harmonica steeped in history while citing blues technique -and does it with clarity, not easily accomplished with an instrument one cannot “see” as per say, a guitar.
GK- Joe, thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
JF- Definitely all my pleasure. I’m delighted when anyone is interested in my extremely eclectic interests, especially when that someone is as cool and passionate as YOU!
GK- I know when at home you’re a bit of a gourmet soup cook- where did that come from?
JF – Just outta necessity of wanting some of my favorite foods that are not available under lockdown. This kinda cooking is quite new to me but I sure have been having loads of fun recently.
GK- Can you recall when you first really noticed the harmonica, how old were you, who and what took your notice about the instrument?
JF- I always had some harmonicas around me but not much early exposure to music being played on it. I did hear it in the rock music I was listening to in high school, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I was listening to it in blues and becoming mesmerized by the magical sound of it. Even to this day I think that it is a VERY special instrument in blues and am amazed at how well it paints a clear picture of the mournful anguish of blues. Listening to the older styles really amazed me to how complicated some of the styles could be. Players like DeFord Bailey could have as may as 3 different things happening simultaneously. Being extremely visual, trying to imagine how these sounds were being made also contributed to my fascination.
GK- Who were your first one or two players who motivated you to get serious about technique?
JF – The very first two records that I purchased were by Big and Little Walter. Initially I was not able to comprehend all the layers and levels in their playing I was also initially in the first few years, quite influenced by the local players Howard Levy, Corky Siegel and Madcat Ruth.
GK- Why did and does pre-war blues specifically hold your interest as a fan and/or performer?
JF- Much bigger and more complex sound, and more levels to the playing. Most contemporary players are clean single note players with mainly only one layer. The Chicago Blues style is the biggest exception to this. I need them chords!
GK- Do you favor one or two particular keys (actual pitch of the harp/s) and if so why?
JF- The harp that I carry with me will tend to be a “G” harp. I really like ALL the keys and like them for different reasons. The lowest keys can be so fantastic for getting an accordion or fiddle flavored like accompaniment. The highest keys are the way to go if you are playing purely acoustically with a resonator guitar. 🙂
GK- We’ve recorded and also played some live shows together and it seems to me you mostly favor cross harp style -and I’ve rarely if ever noticed you using a chromatic harp. Thoughts?
JF- Not too much Chromatic harp for me. I like going portable! If I was going to pursue jazz or classical I would be using the chromatic. Most of what I play is 1st or 2nd position on the diatonic but have recorded songs in all of the 7 modal harp positions. I think that it would usually be fair to say that I favor the harp position that gives me the best chordal options.
GK- You do some specific breathing exercises prior to playing, are quite fluent regarding breath control and I wonder where you learned about that aspect of playing?
JF- Vocals requires the ability to control the flow of the air on the exhale only. It could be fair to say that solid harmonica playing requires control of both the exhale and the inhale. A BIG issue folks run into is “holding” onto too much air. The simple way of understanding 2nd position is playing in the same key of the inhaling dominant 7 chord. All them deep and dark bluesy sounds on the low end of the harp are obtained all by inhaling. Developing the skill of pushing and squeezing air out of your lungs before playing is generally not an intuitive skill players learn quickly but is really important to developing a heavy blues sound. It is much more intuitive to take a deep exhale breath before singing but you can imagine how much trouble a singer would have if they EXHALED immediately before singing. This is one of the fundamentals blues harp players struggle with, not releasing the air before playing.
GK- Besides consideration of the particular song, musician/s or band: do you have a personal, general preference for acoustic or electrified, amp-mic’ed harp playing and if so, why?
JF – Not really, as long as the music is good, has a worthwhile message, grooves, and is not too loud. There are cool advantages for both acoustic and electric.
GK- In your teaching and gig experience, what two or three newbie mistakes commonly pop up when folks begin trying to learn to play blues harp?
JF – Good one! The above mention of breathing is an essential fundamental. I refer to it as Active Blues Breathing. You have to learn to breathe differently if you really want to play. Another big one is not embracing the embouchure of Tongue Blocking. T-Blocking allows for the biggest and most sound out of the harmonica. With your tongue touching and covering holes, you can instantly, with a slight adjustment, go from a clean single note, to an octave split, to a chord or get the percussive crunching vamping/slapping sound. This is all undetectable to the eye. Players can be dismissive and conclude it’s difficult because they can’t actually see what’s happening. Sticking your tongue out is VERY easy. If you can stick it out and move it from one corner of your mouth to the other you will be mimicking advanced T-Blocking. Puckering up your lips to a single hole is the equivalent to a piano player using only one finger and the other clenched into a fist. The 3rd thing would be getting forceful with the bending technique which takes time and is not learned correctly by playing harder or more forcefully. I’m of the belief that skillful musical bending is an advanced technique and takes time and work to develop.
GK- There are a number of various vibrato techniques – is there one you personally favor and why? –
JF – Nope. I’ve used them all but prefer to use discretion with the vibrato. The throat tremolo is usually much more versatile. This is what you typically will hear from the Walters, Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy 1 and DeFord Bailey.
GK- Lastly, we’ve noticed you walking in or near the woods near your home playing for a few deer in the local herd. Are they eclectic in their appreciation of your harpin’ or do they have particular preferences as to songs or blues styling?
JF- Crazy how bold many of the deer here are. Growing up in this area we NEVER seen them and now they are everywhere. Lately I have been experimenting with inhale circular breathing and trying to mimic the didgeridoo and see how they respond to that. Keep in mind that I generally only post the ones that hang around and not the ones of them running for the hills! LOL
GK- Many thanks my friend, cyberhugs to you and Michelle 🙂 -Glenn.
JF – Many thanks to you for the love and shout out. My world is better with you in it. Cyberhugs back! Joe Filisko
You can find a lot of Joe Filisko video and music clips including lessons, performance as well as Joe and Eric Noden’s offerings via YouTube.Com
Mountaintop, Pits. If we don’t navigate it, we might call it quits. Hmmmm, lyricist am us… so note the the rhyme from the title through that first little bit there… 🙂
Early on in my faith I heard a number of sage preachers, teachers and such mention that “things grow in the valley” not on the tops of mountains. The idea is we get stretched by our difficult experiences, it ain’t unlimited ice cream and cake up in the sweet and un-challenging got-wonderful with few or no struggles moments in life mountaintop experiences.
They were correct. I’ve surely learned more though admittedly often unwillingly- in those tough patches of life than elbow-out-the-window-in-the-breeze times.
Now I must also admit in my younger days I thought -note, “thought“- I was better at shifting from one to the other than I really was. Decades later you might have a better sense of who you were and now are.
The deal for me and plenty others is remembering how you got where you are and therefore you can find your way back, or out, or certainly forward. My own experience is faith in, conversations with and noticing God’s arms wrapped around me, the whispers of the Spirit leading me this way and that and recognizing the immediate grace of Jesus when in either place.
It’s good to shake yourself, ask for and use eyes to see and ears to hear that your entire life isn’t ALL deep, dark valleys. Truth. Which of course many blow off as fantasy.
It has been a long, long time since I believed, had any sense of faith that I was doing life alone, all by myself, zero God and zero help (or as Paul put it “Without hope and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2.12b).
I truly do not take that grace for granted as I’ve done zippo to earn it. He IS my Source, Deepest Well. Notice the progression in Paul’s “faith, hope, love”.
Paying attention, asking, seeking, knocking, reaching out of myself because I can’t make it -“it” being whatever it might be in any given moment -without Him.
Call me stupid, crazy, purely imaginative or deluded, you weren’t there when I was freaking completely out in bad trips, paranoia, deep despair or hating myself and distancing myself from every other human as much as possible. You didn’t answer my prayer the night He did and of course you couldn’t. Nobody but Jesus could or did.
Here I am 50 years later and truly nothing even close to the trainwreck I was when I first called on His Name.
Life has not been anything close to a simple joyride but neither is it for anyone reading this regardless of your faith, lack of it or back and forth along a spectrum.
And yet I still find no fault in Jesus. None.
He is no less present in mountaintop joys as in the low-downs, valley of the shadow of death. No. Less. Present.
Of course one must “stay tuned” in relationship or we sure enough can find ourselves drifting…
"The website of the American Music Therapy Association lists 57 pages of research articles chronicling the successful use of music to help treat a host of different illnesses, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and chronic pain.
Music therapy consists of experiences such as improvising, re-creating, composing and listening to music. Music listening is used for clients who need to be activated or soothed physically or emotionally. Composing music is used for clients who need to learn decision making and commitments. Playing instruments can help physically disabled clients to develop motor coordination. Re-creative experience is useful for clients to learn adaptive behavior and to master different role behaviors. Improvisation is needed for a client who needs to develop creativity, freedom of expression, and interpersonal skills. Therapist has to choose accordingly.
There are five elements which are considered as curative factors in group therapy. These are universality, cohesiveness, catharsis, existential awareness, and instillation of hope. Universality is the key appeal of the blues. To the audience that the individual is not alone in suffering is the message given.
They are about acceptance of adversity. Their ability of providing a frame work for accepting their condition makes the blues comforting. Blues has provided a form for people to easily express their sadness and that is why it is often used in music therapy when treating people to cope with personal loss or depression. It helps people come to terms with their grief and/or sadness."
[NOTE: I'm pretty thorough in my web searches but cannot for the life of me find the above quote to credit and cite the author and webspace!!! ARGGGH. If a reader happens to find it please write me via my blog here and I'll cite immediately!! -Glenn Kaiser]
This is a web search response to the topic: https://tinyurl.com/4b3hzrbz
And more specifically regarding blues music, just a few more:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music#Music_therapy (on this link drop down to Music Therapy section and see what you'll find including the attached photo and commentary)
(1 of 2) https://news.wbfo.org/post/music-art-blues-society-bring-music-therapy-horizon-health
(2 of 2) https://blues-e-news.com/nursn-blues-music-fest-benefits-music-therapy-program/
Bluesman Walter Trout (a story in himself you may want to look into) has a brilliant, perceptive wife who has written a book. Here is but one snippet from an interview Dr. Marie Trout gave about her book, quoting from: https://www.americanbluesscene.com/dr-marie-trout-new-book-blues-hurts-good/
"In chapter 19 you explore the “Healing Potential of Blues.” In the section, ‘Situation-Specific Healing’ you write, “Of course, blues is first and foremost music, not medicine. But blues music does contain elements that are restorative, soothing, and healing under certain circumstances.”
I found it interesting that the blues boomers (as I called them) often found it difficult to state ‘What is happiness? Where are we looking for contentment, safety, and relief? White baby boomers, particularly men, are, by the way, the fastest growing segment of users of opioid analgesics. So, pain numbing is in high demand. That’s not just knee or back pain. There’s something else going on, and that emotional pain we experience is often diffuse and difficult to describe.
As I talked with fans and laid their stories over each other, it was clear that there was a lot of need to express this “thing” that was down in there and that blues did that for many blues fans. While it is comfortable short-term to numb (and that is certainly often the cultural solution we are given) when emotions are expressed in blues music, it is such a relief to be able to let go of some of that, and feel that it’s OK to feel it. Others feel it too. We are not alone in feeling broken, lost, or conversely have a need to let go, listen to loud music, have fun and let ‘er rip!
One of the most moving things for me doing this work was to unpack the therapeutic effect of this music, and how it helps us find peace with what we otherwise might have a hard time finding words to even express. For me, it felt like sacred work to be allowed into this universe that felt like not a lot of people were let into. People were really talking with their guard down. That was such an honor."
There is of course a lifetime of historical and other studies related to the matter, but here I hope to spark deeper thought, study and consideration of the healing properties of blues. I'll also mention that without Black Americans and the colonial, racist and brutal even to the point of fatal experience they suffered such music which is arguably the forerunner to most later American musics... would have never happened.
God's gift of song comes in many styles -but let us consider like the laments laced through the Book of Psalms as well as oppressive/oppressed leaders such as Saul, there is a therapeutic and cathartic music available to us.
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn
I was thinking of three “Sundays”- when Jesus post-crucifixion walked out of His grave, another metaphorically being that as long as there is a world with designated weeks/days, Sunday will come again whether we notice, are around to see the next one or not due to being physically dead and no longer on planet earth. The last “Sunday” in my mind is the one each of us will rise to see Jesus’ face as we stand before His throne.
Plenty of folks of course think all but the second one I mentioned as myths, human constructs unproved, scare tactics of authoritarian states or nation-states, back in time city-states with tyrants deploying such nonsense to control the unlearned, poor, illiterate masses to the ruler’s own personal benefit and ends. Re. human kings and lords, these things have so often been reality, sick, stark and a shame to the Church, abhorrent to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And then there is that little tyrant inside all of us where we flip between acknowledging by our own practical desire for ultimate control or conversely, deny such residue even exists within us.
The final two lines of that verse:
“Like those gamblin’ for a garment Place your bet”
We see in Matthew’s Gospel with regard to the soldiers- “And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.” (Mt. 27.35) Note that fulfillment of prophesy from Psalm 22.18- “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
I believe those of us who may never gamble in any typical form gamble continuously.
We “roll dice” that our thinking is best, correct, right, at least for us. Many talk of “going to a better place” in death and that of loved ones. We may regularly stand (as long as we have that ability) on scientific ground (mind you- often excellent ground from my best understanding, knowledge and sources) in more or less terms of “Nobody knows for sure except that our physical life-source ends and our physical bodies die.” -so, “full stop”.
Straight up: “Place your bet.” Each of us bets on our best, most true, real or at least personally satisfactory “life” while we’re still “in the body”. All of us. We’re all gamblers both here and regarding any sense of hereafter, “Ain’t nothing but cold ground” or “In His presence, heaven” or far worse… We’re all betting on something.
GAMBLING: “Alternative Title: betting Gambling, the betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor’s miscalculation.” Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/gambling
Imho, solid definition although I’d say in everyday life the reality is that many of us are rather more unconscious.
On Good Friday it’s also important to remember that Sunday’s Comin’. Know what else? None of us can stop it.
Sometimes I don’t write any songs for days, weeks even. Sometimes longer. And then there are spurts where I write many, at least bits of tunes be it lyrics, music, both, and often an entire song at once. Of course I edit as I think needed.
Here we approach Good Friday and Easter 2021. I’ve so much going on in terms of family, local church community, etc., even a short break to get outdoors pretty much must be scheduled. I don’t think it’s all that different for most people reading this. We’ve all suffered elements of struggle and sometimes deeply- loss of family and friends in the time between last Easter and this one. Pandemic, death, sometimes unexpected, shocking events.
Few- very few things are constant. Long ago the balance and for that matter inevitability of loss, leaving and indeed dying AS WELL AS eternity and for people of faith the Risen Jesus has been a constant gift, reminder to me of priorities, what’s important and is not.
If you read through my posts here you’ll find a lot of fun, hobby stuff and just basic everyday life (at least bits of it in my own little world) but other, more deeply serious issues again and again. Balance. I need it and I’m convinced we all do. Every breath, every moment, all good things gifts to be thankful for and shared when possible!
I don’t expect to have the music that’s in my head ready to record and surely not in a pro. way prior to Easter Sunday so I think this year I’ll merely drop the lyric right here and now, written last Sunday just before the start of Holy Week.
One day at a time, Grateful to Jesus, my sweet wife, family and friends who so encourage me to keep moving -sometimes when I’d rather not too 🙂
I wish you the Person who is EASTER. And as always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn
FRIDAY BLUES -glenn kaiser
Day was dark Darker than any day has been Innocence was slain Nailed to the wood Just like sin
Sunday’s comin’ But not yet Like those gamblin’ for a garment Place your bet
Lotsa words been spoken Lot been sung Mockers, bitter, jokin’ Where love hung Darkened hearts Took their toll
“So let us not talk falsely now… the hour’s getting late.” -Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower’
Hatred or the simple, side-stepping “I don’t care, it’s on them not me!” is complicit if not direct in how Black, Asian, Indigenous and other People of Color are treated in the United State and elsewhere.
Cutting through the dross it has always seemed to me the 3 major issues among professing Christians are often much the same as those in the wide world. I truly believe if asked in a certain way decades ago I’d have still boiled down the major disagreements, fights, splits and too tragically often, cold blood-covered ground to these.
From all I’ve studied and believe true about Jesus and this world, doesn’t it come down to authority, money and “kind”?
Put another way, who’s in control/gets to say/gets their way, who’s got the loot and means to both keep control of it and make a whole lot more of it, who gets and maintains both while looking the other way because they -can- in terms of their own gender, racial “superiority” (racism) and cultural comforts.
I’m quite certain “the man behind the curtain” is a white male who has been trained, raised up in such a climate, often inside as easily as outside any church, but there it is.
The total shock of all this is such that it’s no surprise at all such folks are typically white-hot angry or dumbfounded in a state of depression, despair and adrift wondering how to rightly deal with such truth -and mind you, it’s true.
I’ve obviously been a white male all my life but this is how I see things, sometimes I suppose, not in a “white” way.
Perhaps in part what I’ve written here came to me early by being raised in a family trashed via illness which lead to poverty which lead to a fully fractured family, that I spent many hours with poor white friends and via friends and music baptized in elements of black culture, then living in the inner city and eventually coming to faith in Jesus, travelling in all sorts of varied churches and Christian cultures around the world.
A life of historical studies also seemed to bring these three issues to the top over and over, world-wide, not only in the U.S..
So how does one become a “blessed” peace-maker when one is confronted with one’s own “leg-up” and peace seems to be impossible within? Repent. Learn. Grow. Serve others in greater need, often far greater need than myself.
It is true that the Father sent His Son -perfect, sinless- into a world of injustice much based on those three elements. How did Jesus respond?
Many will immediately think of Jesus knocking the money changer’s tables and driving them out of the temple, the house of worship. He did do that, once and at most twice. What else did Jesus do? It’s obvious but relating to ourselves takes one much deeper.
Paul in what I think to be both plain and eloquent terms paints the picture in Philippians chapter 2. He emptied Himself. Poured Himself out for the Father and others. Humility, sacrifice, focus on God and others, not self, power and wealth though He alone deserved it all simply by fact He was and is God in the flesh.
No one rightly claims authority, wealth or in the human sense, racial Jewish/Chosen of God “status” as Jesus could have during His time on earth! But none of us is Jesus. For me, it always comes down to this. We want to BE God and when it seems our sense of control is contested, out come whatever weapons we choose. The kingdom of self must go.
Those of us with the privilege, power and comfort of “kind” have no real excuses for not sharing and in fact handing the keys of power to those “not like us” because in the end in a very true sense, that’s the example Jesus Himself set for us, yes, gives us.
Years ago a friend of mine (Shane Speal) surprised and gifted me with one of my fave 3 string cigarbox guitars. She’s a slider and I love the sound and looks. What blew me away next was looking at it from another angle: the back.
Shane didn’t know that Son House had long been one of my favorite blues players – nor did he know the Bible verse he included on the guitar has long been one of my “life verses”, of the most personal, influential to me. God knew 🙂
I included it here below.
Last time I checked nobody has a copy of the Lamb’s Book of Life as mentioned in the Book of Revelation (The Bible). So who is and is not in the immediate presence of God enjoying eternity isn’t an absolute known to us. It is known to God. The point is -I cannot judge or have access to that information neither being God… nor the deceased Son House.
What I do know is he was one of the quintessential bluesmen who in some ways was and remains an enigma. From many first-person sources and research Son was a very talented man who worked his whole life through, wrote, covered, re-worked, recorded and performed amazing blues songs in the delta/country blues tradition mostly on dobro using a slide and fingerstyle guitar methods.
He was “re-discovered” later in life after a long layoff from public performance taking all sorts of jobs in order to eat and survive.
If you’re interested there are a number of good and thorough biographies about him online, interviews, live concert clips where he not only plays but chats between songs. He lived quite a long and rather wide life of travel, then settling down, then travelling, drove mules, tractors, took to preaching and pastoring, eventually moving to upstate New York state where he worked for the railroad some 20 years.
He had killed two people in his lifetime, spent time in prison in the South and was let off up North seemingly due to a self-defense situation.
Son grew up in and around the Gospel, African-American religious people, the church and learned from family and others what such a life can teach one. He likewise was both impressed and learnt delta blues guitar from some of the earliest and greatest Black Southern musicians of the day, eventually travelling and performing with them locally, regionally and then recording brilliant “sides” as the single vinyl recordings are called.
Son’s recordings as well as his musical compatriots are easily found online, but the foremost name besides the famous Robert Johnson or lesser-known Willie Brown is that of Charlie Patton.
Patton was and is regarded as one of the first and finest, guitar and dobro playing singers and songwriters of raunchy, authentic country/Delta blues and did indeed define the style via his many gigs all over the South as well as through recordings.
Some rightly argue Son House did so in his own right.
As sometimes continues even today among a few in blues circles, Patton knew, played and recorded (some) Gospel tunes along with his mainstay music: songs about life, sex, struggle and desire.
Son did likewise, but there is a glaring difference. Though elements of both blues giant’s lives are not known, what is documented about House is his several year stint as a preacher in the black church… his off and on-again relationship to the church as well as five marriages and life-long addiction: alcoholism.
Around two decades of musical “layoff” after he’d recorded some of the most seminal Delta blues sides he was “re-discovered” in the largely white folk and blues music revival of the early and mid sixties by college and university students hungry to locate any of the living legends that they had begun to learn about, hear and love.
A young white, rabid blues fan and eventual gifted photographer as well as key reason Son and many other amazing blues artists were ever known named Dick Waterman eventually became his manager, booking agent and close friend. Waterman made sure Son House was not only known but compensated and cared for over the ensuing years.
Boogie band extrordinaire Canned Heat was partly fronted by one “Blind Owl” Wilson who had long studied and been most inspired by Son’s amazing songs. He and a couple more friends, also blues music addicts began tracing the trail of some of the greats -eventually locating Son and his wife living not down South, but up in Rochester, New York.
The rest of the story is also, as they say, history.
As the word got out about this living blues master young white groupies and especially folk-blues guitarists seeking to learn from one of the originators of the genre beat a path to his door looking to listen, ask questions, perhaps even get a lesson or two.
Blues record companies people, Blind Owl and others eventually persuaded Son to pick up the axe, re-learn his old repertoire, play some shows, record and tour again in his last and very senior years.
His Christian wife loved and supported him but clearly took issue with his constant drinking and there is ample evidence that when he allowed these young bucks into his parlor they couldn’t hardly get him to pick up his dobro much less teach them anything unless they were willing to first supply him with booze.
He had been so removed from performing and music for so many years that Owl literally had to teach him his own songs so he could begin playing them in public again.
Son House had to re-learn what it meant to be Son House!
One can find his final recordings, written and partial filmed interview clips and various commentary via the Web including his last longer tour in England. Fascinating stuff. One can also find clips, one that seems to have been taken offline at this point, where someone who dearly loved him and whom Son had mentored in the blues- one Chester Burnett (better known as Holwin’ Wolf) rebuked him in public over his drinking and wasting his life, not taking care of himself.
Here’s a link to one of the more amazing commentaries which also contains several revealing video clips where I believe one gets into some of the mind and heart of the man. It includes Wolf “calling him out”, but it’s actually not the one I referred to above.
Wolf’s songs were often quite sexual and “worldly”, he was a tough man not known for anything spiritual as such yet there is evidence of his respect and admiration for House, his acts of genuine kindness to him and in caring for many other needy musicians in blues music circles. He took care of himself and his business. Sometimes unbelievers are more gracious, more sober than those professing faith in the Lord.
A couple of years ago I began to think of Son as a powerful and often all-too-accurate analogy of the Church. Israel and the Church in history have established a long record of on/off/on in relationship to both God and neighbors. Temptations come, maybe we don’t get the cred we think we deserve, our eye gets turned by something/someone “pretty” and down and away from Him and His people we go.
God isn’t in the bottle, He’s not the sex, dope, bank account, not the sound waves we appreciate. He’s -not- these things.
Interesting that this very morning one of my daily devotions focused on Psalm 51. Yep. There it is. There HE is. There all so often WE are!
Graced. Gifted. Blessed. Easily distracted. Making choices based on self rather than Jesus and others. Weak. Sometimes strong and growing, other times simply inviting the enemy of our souls to help “shore up” our addiction. Sometimes waking up from our stupor to face our own need to repent, believe, accept forgiveness and to truly, better reflect the one we call “our God”.
Our own suffering is naturally easily front-and-center to each one of us. What about the suffering we caused and even now cause God by our wayward choices?!
When I consider myself, the wider Church on earth and yes, Son House, I recognize our deepest need. A genuine and needed “blues therapy” is part of my life (and so many other’s) and by this I mean as a healing music. Yet nothing and nobody can replace nor usurp the place of our Most Needed: the true God, Lord and Savior.
It does seem Son was continually aware. Only God and he knows how things ended for him.
Alleluia for clean and sober!!! I give Thanks to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! I do thank God and those like Son and indeed, the blues -because the lessons run deep.
Partial lyric- “Between Midnight and Day” by Son House
You know I cried last night, I said I cried the night before Ooo I cried last night, I said all the night before I think I’ll change my way of livin’, so I won’t have to cry no more