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Pony Blues

Charley Patton

 

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Charley's Blues

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"Father of the Delta Blues," Charley Patton made this recording in Richmond, Indiana on June 14, 1929 accompanying himself on guitar.

Charley Patton was born in Hinds County, Mississippi near the town of Edwards between April 1887 and 1891. He is considered the "Father of the Delta Blues", and is credited with creating an enduring body of American music and personally inspiring just about every Delta blues man (Palmer, 1995). Musicologist Robert Palmer considers him among the most important musicians that America produced in the twentieth century.

In 1900, his family moved 100 miles north to the legendary 10,000-acre Dockery Plantation sawmill and cotton farm near Ruleville, Mississippi. It was here that both John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf fell under the Patton spell as well as Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, and Fiddlin' Joe Martin. It was also here that Robert Johnson played and was given his first guitar. At Dockery, Charley fell under the tutelage of Henry Sloan, who had a new, unusual style of playing music which today would be considered very early blues. Charley followed Henry Sloan around and by the time he was about 19 had become an accomplished performer and songwriter in his own right, having already composed the seminal "Pony Blues."

Biographer John Fahey describes Patton as having "light skin and Caucasian features." Though Patton was considered African-American, because of his light complexion there have been rumors that he was Mexican, or possibly a full-blood Cherokee, a theory endorsed by Howlin' Wolf. In actuality, Patton was a mix of white, black, and Cherokee

Patton was a "jack-of all-trades bluesman" who played "deep blues, white hillbilly songs, nineteenth-century ballads, and other varieties of black and white country dance music with equal facility," according to Robert Palmer. He was extremely popular across the Southern United States and also performed annually in Chicago, Illinois and, in 1934, New York City. In contrast to the itinerant wandering of most blues musicians of his time, Patton played scheduled engagements at plantations and taverns. Long before Jimi Hendrix impressed audiences with flashy guitar playing, Patton gained notoriety for his showmanship, often playing with the guitar down on his knees, behind his head, or behind his back. Although Patton was a small man at about 5 foot 5, his gravelly voice was rumored to have been loud enough to carry 500 yards without amplification. Patton's gritty bellowing was a major influence on the singing style of his young friend Chester Burnett, who went on to gain fame in Chicago as Howlin' Wolf.

Patton settled in Holly Ridge, Mississippi with his common-law wife and recording partner Bertha Lee in 1933. He died on the Heathman-Dedham plantation near Indianola on April 28, 1934 and is buried in Holly Ridge (both towns are located in Sunflower County). Patton's death certificate states that he died of a mitral valve disorder. His death was not reported in the newspapers. A memorial headstone was erected on Patton's grave in July, 1990 paid for by musician John Fogerty through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund.



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