Saturday, March 27, 2010

Son House - Death Letter


"Death Letter", also known as "Death Letter Blues", is probably the signature song of Son House. It is structured upon House's earlier recording "My Black Mama, part 2" from 1930. .......

Lyrically, the song is about a man who learns of the death of the woman he loves through a letter delivered to him early in the morning. The narrator later views her body on the cooling board at the morgue, attends her funeral, and returns to his home in a state of depression.

House's lyrics draw from traditional sources. Other blues musicians recorded related songs, including Lead Belly ("Death Letter Blues"), Ishman Bracey ("Trouble Hearted Blues"), Ida Cox ("Death Letter Blues"), Robert Wilkins ("Nashville Stonewall") and Blind Willie McTell ("On The Cooling Board").


The song has been reworked by other major bluesmen. Robert Johnson, who was heavily influenced by Son House, may have incorporated and reworked "My Black Mama" / "Death Letter" into his own song, "Walking Blues", though that title also has its own pedigree in versions by Son House and in Charlie Patton's work. Skip James reworked the music and lyrics into his song Special Rider Blues. Avant-garde blues artist Jandek reworked a verse from "Death Letter" into his song "I Went Outside". Muddy Waters's closely related song about the same subject is "Burying Ground".

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