Son House, legendary blues musician, honored by Southern Folklife Collection
In 1964, Dick Waterman knocked on blues musician Son House’s door with good news — the music House had recorded 30 years ago had finally made him famous.
Long before the age of the Internet, Waterman had driven around the country to find House.
“He’s old and black and suddenly three young white guys — myself and two others — knock on his door, and we say to him, ‘Your music is pop again. Young white people listen to the records you made and play music in your style,’” said Waterman, who is best known for photographing famous musicians of the time.
“He was baffled by this. But he was willing to go along.”
House went on to enjoy a second career, one that acknowledged and celebrated the influence he had on musicians like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, Waterman said.
Today, House will be honored at Wilson Library as the final segment in the Southern Folklife Collection’s Blues Legacy Series.
The series has brought tribute concerts to UNC for legendary Southern musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and Rev. Gary Davis this academic year.
Waterman and Daniel Beaumont — House’s biographer — will speak at a free symposium in Wilson Library tonight before a concert in the Student Union Great Hall, which will feature musicians who studied under House.
Steve Weiss, head of the Southern Folklife Collection, said House is the link between blues musicians Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson.
He said House was also an influence on numerous others, including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and The White Stripes.
“Ending the blues series with Son seemed like a great way to build to a peak,” he said.
Many of the musicians who defined the “British invasion” in the 1960s and ’70s consider House a musical god, Waterman said.
“Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton — they can tell you the first time they ever saw Son House in person,” Waterman said. “They were rendered speechless.”
But Waterman said the days of popular idolization of icons like House are over.
“The chances of the music of one of the older bluesmen becoming popular again is negligible,” he said.
Waterman said that it is up to colleges and scholarship to keep the legacy of musicians like House alive.
Rory Block studied with House in the 1960s and is performing as part of the tribute event tomorrow with Joe Beard and John Mooney.
She said she hopes that future generations will celebrate blues music.
“A college campus is a perfect place for that kind of information to be available, but we all need to know the history of the music we hear on the radio,” she said.
“It’s not something that occurred in a vacuum.”
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