Charley Patton

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Charley "Charlie" Patton

(1890s - April 28, 1934)

Charley Patton, also known by the alternative spelling Charlie Patton, was unequivocally one of the most influential people to have ever touched the Blues. A combination of timing and skill rightfully earned Charlie the title "Father of the Blues". It was a title he obtained because he was one of the earliest recorded Bluesmen, as well as him having personally mentored and taught a handfull of blues musicians who themselves would become extremely large and influential figures in the development of modern music.

Charley Patton / Charlie Patton, his only known photograph.

The only known picture of Charlie Patton

Early in his life, he was mentored by a mysterious man named Henry Sloan. Unfortunately, Sloan is a victim of the sands of time. He was never recorded, and next to nothing is known about him. Because of time, records, and other factors, it is incredibly unlikely any more will ever be known about Sloan, but he obviously made enough of an impact on Charlie Patton that the young student guitarist spent much of his life as an entertainer and Bluesman when he wasn't working cotton fields. Charlie was the most famous resident of Dockery Plantation, a ten-thousand acre plantation roughly twenty miles South of Clarksdale, Mississippi. There, he recieved his guitar knowledge, and later he mentored some of the greatest Bluesmen to have ever lived. He played with Son House and mesmerized a young Howlin' Wolf, who later took his vocal cues from Patton's deep, gravelly voice (reportedly, at least partially gravelly because of a knife fight where he had his throat slit and nearly died). Willie Brown, presumably the same Willie Brown Robert Johnson would later sing about in his now famous "Crossroad Blues", was Patton's sideman and later vocal partner. It was directly from the school of Patton that slightly later musicians such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker would cut their teeth from.

Charley Patton lived at Dockery Plantation

Dockery Plantation, where
Charley Patton lived for many years

From firsthand accounts by Son House and others, Charley Patton was a rockstar long before there was Rock or stars. He was a tried entertainer, playing behind his back and between his legs and employing other tricks. Son House called it "clowning". His guitar clowning, though, some twenty years before Jimi Hendrix's birth, would make Hendrix a household name for those exact stage antics. Patton began his recording caree by boldly writing a self-praising letter to Mr. H.C Speir, a Jackson, Mississippi record store owner and talent scout for several recording companies. Speir was so impressed with Patton's claims that he made the trip to Dockery to see Charley for himself. It was from this meeting that Patton had his first recording session for Paramount Records in Indiana. He recorded fourteen tracks, including what could be considered the first Delta Blues hit single, "Pony Blues". He recorded for Paramount two more times in the following years, once bringing along his proteges Son House and Willie Brown to accompany him.

Charley Patton has a Bleus marker at Dockery Plantation in Mississippi

Charley Patton's Blues
Marker at Dockery Plantation

In April 1928, he passed away from either heart failure or an infection outside of Indianola, Mississippi, only some twenty miles from Dockery Plantation. His wife and occasional recording partner, Bertha Lee, was with him. Many years after his death, John Fogerty, of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame, purchased a tombstone for Patton. It was erected in 1990. In his lifetime, he made over fifty recordings which, while they have the quality of most 1930's recordings, display his remarkable talent and ability. Patton was a teacher and enormous influence on the men that would bring the Blues and soon Rock to a place far beyond the poor porches, house parties, and street corners that it began in. It was because of this that Patton can easily be considered one of the most important, pivotal musicians of the 20th century.

Notable songs by Charley Patton
Pony Blues
Oh Death
High Water Everywhere
Pea Vine Blues

Notable books on Charley Patton
Delta Blues by Ted Gioia
(It should be noted that while the book is very informative, only a portion focuses on Charley Patton)