Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 6, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 6

Charley Patton was one of the most important blues singers from Mississippi and was a strong influence to future singers. Charley wou1d love to clown around while playing his guitar. At times he would put the guitar between his legs or behind his head, often lying on be floor as he was playing. He was referred to as the "Founder of the Delta Blues" by his peers.

Patton never did like to be settled in one place for any length of time. He moved around a lot, especially in the Mississippi Delta area where his favorite stop was at Will Dockery's plantation. There he was recognized for his ability to clown around and still play a good Delta blues style guitar. He was also known for his heavy drinking, fighting and always had his eyes focused on the women standing by listening to his singing. Charley made several hit records. His most popular was "Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues." His "High Water Everwhere" record was inspired by the 1927 Mississippi flood. Other hits followed such as, "Running Wild Blues, A Spoonful Blues: "Pon Blues," and "High Sheriff Blues." In his "Moon Going Down" recording, he used rhythm guitar player Willie Brown to accompany him.

When Mississippi was experiencing a farming crisis in 1930, Charley Patton recorded "Dry Spell Blues." In his prime, Charley was a legend. His visible appearance in the Mississippi Delta area was an inspiration for other blues singers. Included were Tommy Johnson, Willie Brown, 'Son' House, Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf), Bo Weavil Jackson, 'Crying' Sam Collins, J.D. 'Jelly Jaw' Short and his half brother Sam Chatmon.

Patton was not known to be a religious man, but in 1934 he recorded several sacred songs that he learned from Bill C. Patton, an Elder in his church and also married to Charley's mother. Bill raised Charley from childhood. One of the hymns that Charley recorded on Vocalion Records in New York was "On Death" and he used the pseudonym Elder J.J. Hadley. Bill C. Patton was not Charley's biological father. He was the result of one of his mother's earlier lovers. Henderson Chatmon, a fiddler and father of a musical family of a black string band that performed for a predominantly white audience during the 1920s and '30s. They called themselves the 'Mississippi Sheiks."

Charley spent much of his youth with the Chatmon family and Sam Chatmon, son of Henderson referred to Patton as his half brother. The Mississippi Sheiks, eleven in number were versatile in their performance. Their instrumentation included the clarinet, piano, guitars and fiddles. The band's repertoire was a variety of music, blues, ragtime, jazz, spirituals, show tunes, minstrel tunes and white country dance music. They recorded over 50 sides for the Okeh Label. Some of their biggest hits were, "Loose like That," "Sitting On Top of the World," "Step and Listen Blues" and "Blood in My Eyes." These tunes were so successful in the 1930s that Howlin' Wolf, Hackberry Ramblers, Doc Watson, Bob Dvlan, Ray Charles, Erie Clapton and the Grateful Dead made cover records on the same tunes.

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