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The wiki says he was championed by Charley Patton and influenced Robert Johnson in the 1930s. He was recorded by Alan Lomax in the 40s. And he was rediscovered in the early ‘60s spurring a career revival. Blues legend Son House (1902-1988) has a stunning new album out culled from previously unreleased concert recordings from this time called Forever On My Mind that is sure to excite fans around the world.
Influential writer, photographer, producer & promoter Dick Waterman was one of three fans who tracked down and rediscovered House, by then living in Rochester, NY in 1964. House had abandoned his career for decades, laboring as a foundry worker, railroad porter and cook, among other jobs, after moving from Mississippi to New York in 1943. The trio convinced House to come out of retirement and Waterman eventually became his manager and handler.
The earliest full-length solo performance after his rediscovery, these recordings on Forever On My Mind were made before the sessions that were released by Columbia Records which rekindled his career for a new audience of young blues aficionados around the world. The concert was captured a small school in Crawfordsville, Indiana — Wabash College — on November 23, 1964. The new album was produced for release by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
From the official press release for Forever On My Mind we learn from Mr. Waterman:
“I always knew that I wanted this body of tape that I had to come out together, as The Avalon Collection or The Waterman Tapes, as sort of my legacy. They were just here at my home, on a shelf. I had made a few entrees to record companies, but nothing had really come through. I thought that Dan Auerbach would treat the material with reverence and respect.”
Forever On My Mind is out this week on CD, vinyl and streaming. The good folks at blues label Easy Eye Sound, run by Mr. Auerbach — yes, there are still labels issuing blues recordings! — kindly sent me an advance copy of the vinyl and it is a joy. For a nearly 60 year old recording, this sounds timeless. It is so fresh and clear, it almost could have been recorded today. This is a pure, stripped-back, raw finger picked and slide blues guitar and vocal listening experience.
House’s performances are mesmerizing as he runs through songs which ended up on his eventual Columbia Records release as well as some that went unreleased until 1992. The title track was never recorded officially in the studio but apparently was a tune he riffed on in concert over the years. His cover of Charley Patton’s “Pony Blues” is particularly haunting, with House sounding especially inside the music like he’d been transported to another time and place. You can hear him moving his legs on stage during “The Way Mother Did” which sounds like him improvising around the gospel blues standard “Motherless Children.”
The concert was recorded by the college and the tapes given to Waterman who kept them in his archive all these years. It sounds like it was recorded through a mixing board so the vocals and guitar are very up front with no additional reverb added. The audience is so quiet and attentive you really don’t even hear them. Forever On My Mind plays effectively like a studio recording. It just happened to be recorded before 30-50 people!
The fidelity on Forever On My Mind is pretty remarkable for a recording of this vintage and origins. This album is made from the original quarter-inch master tape and there is very little in the way of tape hiss apparent yet it sounds natural (I’m not sure if any noise reduction was employed in the restoration process but if they did, it sounds natural). The standard weight vinyl is well pressed, quiet and perfectly centered so there are no problems there.
For those who aren’t into vinyl or CDs, you can find Forever On My Mind streaming in 96 kHz, 24-bit Hi Res format on Qobuz (click here), in Apple Music Lossless (click here) and CD quality on Tidal (click here).
You can get the album at your favorite music stores or at Amazon (click on the title anywhere in this review to jump to that page). It is also available in a limited edition colored vinyl version from Easy Eye Sound (click here).
Forever On My Mind is an important archival release. Fans of the blues need to listen.