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How to play Son House

PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 4:44 pm
by Lightning Slick
I've been wondering how to play some of the songs by my idol, Son house. Anybody know how to play Death Letter Blues, Levee Camp Moan, or Low Down Dirty Dog Blues?

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 6:59 pm
by Bournio
The best idea is to just pound the strings as hard as possible! I don't have my guitar with me so I can't work out how I do Death Letter....

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 10:00 pm
by Lightning Slick
Do you know what tuning he uses?

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 2:26 am
by zhyla
I know he used G, not sure if he used anything else. There are tabs for some of his stuff (Death Letter for instance), might be a good place to start.

He played that guitar pretty hard.

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 12:31 pm
by wanderingyankee
Tuning is Spanish G with a twist...the 2nd string (b) should be tuned to b "dissonant" ....between b natural and b flat.

So tuning is D G D G "B dissonnant" D.

I learned this from Louisiana Red who learned it directly from Muddy.

I know it sounds crazy but, try it and tell me i'm wrong....

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 5:58 pm
by ricochet
There is a true, integer-ratio interval just exactly between the minor third and major third. It's often called the "blues third" because it's used so much in blues singing and guitar playing with bent notes or slide. More useful in single-note melodic work than in chords.

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:51 am
by kiwiblues
Must try it. Is there any real advantage in using it for slide?
ricochet wrote:There is a true, integer-ratio interval just exactly between the minor third and major third. It's often called the "blues third" because it's used so much in blues singing and guitar playing with bent notes or slide. More useful in single-note melodic work than in chords.

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2009 1:41 am
by ricochet
I've never tuned a string to it. I frequently slide to it, though.

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Sun May 10, 2009 4:36 pm
by spanoghe
There's a great clip of Son House playing Death Letter on one of the DVDs of the 60s European blues tours - "American Folk Blues Festival vol 3"(You can get these DVDs on Amazon and they're fantastic -incredible lineups!). You can see what he is doing pretty well. He's in "Spanish" tuning (open G)and playing in first position.

I play a version of Death Letter I heard on another recording of his, however, where he plays the song at the fifth fret, dropping down to open for the turn-around (sorry, I'm afraid I'm no good at doing tabs).

When I saw Son House - in '71, I think it was - yes, he played hard, but very relaxed at the same time. Especially his right hand - the cross-rhythms came from flipping his wrist, almost like a flamenco player. I was watching like a hawk! He's been a big influence on me and I play his and Kokomo Arnold's stuff pretty hard - I use 13 down to 58 strings and have been known to chip varnish off my guitar under the bottom string. :D

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2009 1:35 pm
by CashWiley
spanoghe wrote:Especially his right hand - the cross-rhythms came from flipping his wrist, almost like a flamenco player.

The biggest influence on my right hand technique these days is a guy from the Andes who plays the charango out of TX. Transcendental style.

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Thu Jul 30, 2009 7:15 pm
by mmapags
If you know Robert Johnson's Walking Blues or are able to find it, it has much in common with Death Letter Blues including a verse or two. Walking Blues is played in Open G. I've not tried to learn Death Letter Blue yet so I can't say exactly how close the 2 may be. I did hear a recording of it recently and it sounded pretty similar. Rumor is that Johnson took parts of that song, addded in some of his own verses and renamed it. Hope this is helpful.

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 11:39 pm
by Lo-Fi
I still remember be given a copy of House's Father of the Folk Blues LP back in '65 or '66. I would sit there dropping the needle of my record player over and over again on that tune trying to figure out what the heck House was doing. Finally, I gathered up enough chutzpah and wandered into a local folk music gathering and lo and behold, somebody showd me Spanish tuning. Lordy, opened up a new world for this child. An epiphany if ever there was one. "Death Letter Blues" has been in my setlist ever since.

Even though House played it in open Open G you can also play it in standard tuning pretty easily. You can use your left thumb (assuming you are right handed) on the low end to help get that disonant sound someone mentioned. Comes in handy when ya only got one guitar in standard tuning with ya and are too lazy to retune it.

The key to Son House is that while Charlie Patton was a musician, House was a field hand. He all raw emotion and power. And unfortunately, that ain't something you are going to get from book learning. About the closest I ever came was back home in Mississippi when I got invited to sit in a bit with the choir at the church which was right behind my house during Wednesday night practices. Playing those Jubilee songs that were as old as the singers most remote ancestors in that building gave me something I had never felt before. Been trying to recapture it ever since.

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 11:48 pm
by Lo-Fi
spanoghe wrote: Especially his right hand - the cross-rhythms came from flipping his wrist, almost like a flamenco player.


Your left hand is what you know, your right hand is who you are.

Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Tue Jan 12, 2010 7:30 am
by godinguy
Hope I'm not too late!
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Re: How to play Son House

PostPosted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:55 am
by HipHopBlues
Hey,

Know I am coming in late here, but this thread was relevant to another one I was looking at earlier regarding Son House. Here is the link I posted to his Grooveshark playlist. There are about 6 or 7 songs on there some of which seem like they could be learned by ear with a little bit of time. I got nothing on tabs here, but I have been listening to Son House for the past hour looking for samples so here is what I am listening to:

http://listen.grooveshark.com/#/artist/Son+House/vbs/24328?src=5