A blues singer named Bob Geddins wrote the song Haunted House. The same guy wrote Tin Pan Alley, the wonderful Sam Cooke vocal Fool’s Paradise and Mercury Blues which just about everyone has sung. Haunted House is kind of an odd number. So many of these horror genre songs fit neatly into the minor key tradition that when one is a straight forward honkytonk boogie like this one my ears automatically perk up.
Other singers have covered the song over the years, but in his usual fashion ol’ Jerry Lee takes it and makes it his own. Jerry Lee has a way of ruining a song. It must be a little like having a daughter who goes out with the one boy you don’t want her to go out with, because after him she’s through.
Musically though that’s what makes Jerry Lee great. In this he has no peer. Jerry Lee Lewis has never sung a song he didn’t sing the hell out of. This is a throw away song if I’ve ever heard one and Jerry surely knows it too. It’s hard to imagine him even remembering this 1973 session. He’s cut hundreds of songs and this is just some old jump blues number about a haunted house. But listen to how he sings it.
He sings (but doesn’t say) “I just moved into my new house today,” and by the end of that short first verse, with keys being pounded on and a hot band chuggin’ behind him, has informed us it’s haunted, which makes apparently little difference to him. Haunted House is quite possibly the unintentional anthem of American Exceptionalism. Written by a poor black man from Texas and sung by a poor white man from Louisiana who both rose above and put their indelible marks on the world around them. I can’t imagine either giving up their hard earned home just because they found themselves sharing it with a ghost. He relates the whole tale with the drama of telling it to his barber; nonchalant, slightly incredulous when appropriate and a good dose of swagger. He even gets to name drop himself in the middle – something no one else does quite as well as the Killer. The song ends up as the musical equivalent of a guy walking into a movie 2/3rds of the way in, looking at the screen for a minute and then deadpanning the twist to everyone before walking out. It’s just too cool for me.
Working people’s dreams are quiet and humble affairs, but they’re also considered hard fought and paid for when achieved and neither man nor spirit will wrest it away easily.
Post Script ~ The great guitar slinger Roy Buchanan does a frighteningly good job on the song himself. His guitar is plain wicked and the fine pianist he shares the recording with gives us a taste of what could have been had he and Jerry Lee put out a true duet recording. It’s really too bad.