Time Reveals Changes in Son House’s Approach on 1964 Recording ‘Forever on My Mind’

The 8 performances on Forever on my Mind, recorded live at Wabash College in 1964, are so different, they force us to rethink everything we know we about him. 
Son House Forever on my Mind

In a recording career that spanned five decades, Eddie “Son” House (1902–88) never played a song the same way twice. But the eight performances on Forever on my Mind, recorded live at Wabash College in November 1964, are so different, they force us to rethink everything we know we about him. 

On the original six sides recorded for Paramount in 1930, and again on the 16 tracks recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941–42, House sings with a frightening intensity, his voice shaking with hellfire. (Before turning to the blues at 25, he’d been a Baptist preacher.) On guitar, his playing was even more intense, rattling his National steel with rough, raw slide riffs and snapping strings hard against the fretboard. 

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But on this one night in November 1964, House has a surprisingly light touch. The precision he’d once had was gone, never to return, and riffs that used to shake the rafters, like the ones on “Death Letter” and “Louise McGhee,” now trail into emptiness and despair. Others, such as “Preachin’ Blues,” are soft enough to hear House making fun of his old self, and on the title track, his slow, unspeakable longing is miles away from the kind of wailing, dramatic performances captured months later on The Legendary Son House Father of Folk Blues (Columbia). That’s the Son House we knew, and to hear him on this one night in Indiana feels like a small revelation, capturing a performer so nuanced, so intimate, and still so deeply steeped in the blues.

A live performance from around 1965.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Kenny Berkowitz
Kenny Berkowitz

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