Before Jimi Hendrix mastered the guitar, before Chuck Berry pioneered rock & roll, and even before Robert Johnson had strummed a single chord – Charley Patton did it all. Without the Father of the Delta Blues, American popular music as we know it would not exist.
Charley Patton picked up his first guitar at age 7, shortly after moving to Dockery Plantation in Mississippi. As an elder statesman of the blues, he mentored a who’s who of Delta musicians including Son House, Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf. Patton recorded his first session for Paramount Records in 1929, cutting seminal songs like “Pony Blues,” which the Library of Congress later canonized in the National Recording Registry.
Patton crafted such full textures in his music that his recordings can sound as though three guitarists are performing together – but it was all Patton. The virtuosity of his inimitable guitar technique offered a way to convey on record the energy of his live performances. Patton played his guitar between his legs, shouted to reach the back of crowded juke joints, and harshly beat rhythms on his guitar with songs that sometimes stretched to half an hour.
Patton’s story paints a fuller picture of the myriad influences of Delta performers. His songs capture the pain of field hollers (“Oh Death”), the joy of vaudeville (“A Spoonful Blues”), the humor of ragtime (“Shake It and Break It”), and the righteousness of gospel (“I Shall Not Be Moved”). As a symbol of success and professionalism in his community, Patton’s story debunks the often-told myth of the downtrodden-but-mystically-gifted bluesman.
The world will never know how the blues sounded before musicians like Patton, Ma Rainey, and Blind Lemon Jefferson started recording the music in the 1920s. These artists form the nexus between history and mystery. Patton planted the Delta blues seed that sprouted the endless branches of rock & roll from Chicago blues to the British Invasion, from heavy metal to hip-hop. When music fans search for the true origins of rock & roll and its roots, Charley Patton is about as close as it gets.
“Pony Blues” (1929) • “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” (1929) • “Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues” (1929) • “Down the Dirt Road Blues” (1929) • “Banty Rooster Blues” (1929) • “Tom Rushen Blues” (1929) • “A Spoonful Blues” (1929) • “Shake It and Break It (But Don’t Let It Fall Mama)” (1929) • “Prayer of Death, Part 1” (1929) • “Prayer of Death, Part 2” (1929) • “I’m Goin’ Home” (1929) • “Jesus Is a Dying Bed Maker” (1929) • “High Water Everywhere, Part 1” (1929) • “High Water Everywhere, Part 2” (1929) • “I Shall Not Be Moved” (1929) • “You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You Die” (1930) • “Bird Nest Bound” (1930) • “Stone Pony Blues” (1934) • “34 Blues” (1934) • “Oh Death” (1934)
Influences: Henry Sloan, Earl Harris, Ma Rainey
Legacies: Robert Johnson, Keith Richards, John Fogerty
Cleveland, Ohio 44114