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Charlie Patton

A Tribute to Delta Blues Pioneer CHARLIE PATTON

(1891 - 1934)

Charlie Patton - the first great delta blues artist

Charlie Patton was THE first great Delta bluesman; from him flowed nearly all the elements that would comprise the region’s blues style.  Patton had a coarse, earthy voice that reflected hard times and hard living.  His guitar style - percussive and raw - matched his vocal delivery.

He often played slide guitar and brought slide technique to prominence in Delta blues.  Patton’s song lyrics went beyond mere narratives of love gone bad.  Patton often injected a highly personal viewpoint into his music and explored issues like social mobility (Pony Blues), imprisonment (High Sheriff Blues), nature (High Water Blues), and morality (Oh Death) that went far beyond the traditional male - female relationship themes.

Patton defined the hard-livin life of an itinerant bluesman.  He drank and smoked excessively.  He reportedly had a total of eight wives.  He traveled extensively, never staying in one place for too long. He was jailed at least once - in Belzoni jail, where Patton spent a brief period in early January 1934. From there, it moved on to New York for what turned out to be his final session before his death in April of that year.

Patton’s standing in blues history is immense: no country blues artist, save Blind Lemon Jefferson, exerted more influence on the future of the form or on its succeeding generation of stylists than Patton.  Everyone from Son House, Howlin' Wolf, and Robert Johnson, to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Elmore James can trace their blues styles back to Patton.

In a sense Charlie Patton, in addition to being a bluesman of the highest calibre, might also be the first rock & roll-style showman.  Patton was far from passive when he performed in front of an audience.  It was not uncommon for him to play the guitar between his knees or behind his back.  He also played the instrument loud and rough.  Patton reportedly jumped around and used the back of his guitar like a drum.  He was a showman and made histrionics part of his act.  Patton was inducted into the U.S. Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980.

Adapted from 'The Big Book of Blues :  A Biographical Encyclopedia' (written by Robert Santelli )

Charlie Patton - a brief biography

Charlie was born in west central Mississippi, probably on the Heron's Place plantation. In 1900 the family moved about 100 miles north to Sunflower county. By 1906, at the age of 15, Charlie is working on the Dockery plantation.

Dockery Plantation - home to Charley Patton

The Dockery Plantation was home to Charley Patton for about half his life, and it was here that he learned from bluesman Henry Sloan. He married Minnie Toy. In 1909 having borrowed a guitar to learn to play, Charlie soon became an accomplished musician and by 1916 is considered one of the finest guitarists in Sunflower County. As a result of a family argument he is forced to leave Dockery's plantation - but returns in 1918.

Three years later he leaves again, this time after being dismissed, and by 1923 has become popular in the barrel-houses of Mississippi. In 1925 Charlie's back in Dockery's again. By 1928 his stock piece 'Maggie' is recorded by Tommy Johnson as 'Maggie Campbell Blues'.

Patton's friends Willie Brown, Son House, and Tommy Johnson played parties, picnics, and fish fries in the tenant quarters at Dockery. Howlin' Wolf moved to Dockery Plantation in 1929 to work and soak up Patton's music. Dockery's was, like many plantations in the Mississippi Delta, less a farm than a self-sufficent community with its own commissary, post office, blacksmith's shop, railroad deport, school, churches and graveyard. It even issued its own money.

Charlie made his first recordings, for the Paramount record label in 1929 in Richmond, Indiana which continued into 1930 when again he is thrown off Dockery's for the third and final time.

In 1934 Charlie is taken to New York by talent scout W.R. Calaway to record for the American Record Company. In three days at the end of January he recorded 29 songs.

On the 28th April 1934 Charlie dies in Indianola, Mississippi. When LP's were issued back in the Mid 1960's some 30 years after Charlie died, there was still great interest in his work.


(Right) On Drew's town square, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson (who lived on the nearby Webb Jennings Plantation), and Willie Brown played for tips from farmers who had come to town. A young Howlin' Wolf, who was heavily influenced by these men, did the same during the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Charlie Pattons Grave

Charley Patton's grave is in Holly Ridge, Mississippi. The graveyard is surrounded by cotton fields and next to a large cotton gin. The New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, where Charley Patton performed his religious songs, is nearby.

(Compiled from a variety of internet sources)

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