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Finding Son House – One Searcher’s Story | Book Review

Finding Son House – One Searcher’s Story
by Richard Shade Gardner
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
90 pages

In 1981, dealing with the emotions of life’s twists, turns, and setbacks, author Richard Shade Gardner discovered blues music. The music was a lifeline of sorts, reminding him that others had dealt with hardship and troubles, living to tell about it. Living was tough on money earned as a free-lance writer and part-time retail store clerk. But Gardner also hosted a blues radio on a weekly basis in Rochester, New York.

The author spent many nights pouring through the liner notes on album covers purchased from record stores and dusty thrift shops. The knowledge that he gained merely whetted his appetite for more understanding. So he dove deep into the archives of the local library system. He already knew that Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters were two legendary musicians whose work had influenced several generations of musicians and listeners. The author wondered who came before them, had provided the spark that ignited the passion in these two giants.

An interview in a 1950?s edition of Downbeat magazine provided a clue as Muddy Waters named Eddie “Son” House as his major musical influence. That bit of information led to a deeper investigation of House, who had also served as a mentor for Johnson. House had been rediscovered in 1964 by a trio of blues fans – Dick Waterman, Nick Perls, and Phil Spiro – who searched through the Mississippi Delta region only to discover that House had been living in Rochester for years. The author learns that House was still performing locally in 1976 but from that point, the guitarist seemingly vanished.

But the intrepid author refuses to give up on the search. Working through various contacts, Gardner eventually gets an address and phone number from guitarist John Mooney that puts House not in Rochester, but in Detroit, MI. After a less-than-promising contact with his wife, the author and a friend set off to visit the reclusive House. The tale of their trip and encounter with the legendary bluesman is the centerpiece of the story. It had a profound effect on the author, who posits that given the scope of influence that Johnson and Waters continue to exert on modern music, House deserves credit as a founding father of rock music.

The book also includes some of Gardner’s musings on the impact that House songs like “Grinnin’ In Your Face” had on his life as well as details on several incidents that played out around his search, including one with an irate musician who was none to happy that Gardner failed to contact her for an article he wrote about House that ran in the local Rochester paper. There is also a chapter that examines the history of the city as it plays out in chronicle of House’s life there.

While certainly not a definitive biography, this book connects because Gardner makes you care about his quest and does an admirable job of weaving the search for Son House around his own personal storyline. It includes some rare photos and a selected discography of House recordings, making this book a personal examination of one man’s brush with musical history.

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