Blind Willie Johnson – John the Revelator. From an Anthology of American Folk Music
Well, he wasn’t from the Delta but–
Blind Willie Johnson was born in 1897 near Brenham, Texas (before the discovery of his death certificate, Temple, Texas had been suggested as his birthplace). When he was five, he told his father he wanted to be a preacher, and then made himself a cigar box guitar. His mother died when he was young and his father remarried soon after her death.
Johnson was not born blind, and, although it is not known how he lost his sight, Angeline Johnson told Samuel Charters that when Willie was seven his father beat his stepmother after catching her going out with another man. The stepmother then picked up a handful of lye and threw it, not at Willie’s father, but into the face of young Willie.
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Now, here’s Delta Bluesman Son House doing this song–
Son House was born two miles from Clarksdale, Mississippi. Around age seven or eight, he was brought by his mother to Tallulah, Louisiana, after his parents separated. The young Son House was determined to become a Baptist preacher, and at age 15 began his preaching career. He taught himself guitar in his mid 20s, after moving back to the Clarksdale area. House was inspired by the work of Willie Wilson and began playing alongside Charley Patton, Willie Brown, Robert Johnson and Fiddlin’ Joe Martin around Robinsonville, Mississippi, and north to Memphis, Tennessee, until 1942.
House spent time in the Delta’s infamous Parchman Prison after killing a man, allegedly in self-defense, in approx. 1929. H was playing in a juke joint when a man went on a shooting spree. Son was wounded in the leg, and shot the man dead. He received a 15-year sentence at Parchman Farm prison.
Son House recorded for Paramount Records in 1930 and for Alan Lomax from the Library of Congress in 1941 and 1942. He faded from public view until the country blues revival in the 1960s when he was “re-discovered” in June 1964 in Rochester, New York, where he had lived since 1943.
House had been working for the New York Central Railroad and was unaware of the international revival of enthusiasm for his early recordings. He went on to tour extensively in the US and Europe and recorded for CBS records.
House played at Newport Folk Festival in 1964, the New York Folk Festival in July 1965, and the October 1967 European tour of the American Folk Festival along with Skip James and Bukka White.
Son House can be seen in the documentary “The Howling Wolf Story”. House and Howlin’ Wolf (also from the Delta) had been close early in Wolf’s career. In the summer of 1970, House toured Europe once again, including an appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival; a recording of his London concerts was released by Liberty Records.
In 1974 he retired once again, and later moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he remained until his death from cancer of the larynx. He was buried at the Mt. Hazel Cemetery.