Charley Patton


“He’s basically the great-grandfather of all American and western music that has lasted the test of time.  There’s a lot of music that this country has put out but the beginnings of it, to me, are the blues.  And that has split it off into so many things — into country, into rockabilly, into jazz and rock n’ roll and all kinds of popular music nowadays.  So if we’re talking about that, we’re talking about the early days of the blues and who was generating a lot of these ideas and the chord changes that went along with it — that set up the whole structure.”
Jack White

Along with Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton is widely considered the most important of the early country blues players, and among the first of the great bluesmen to come out of the Mississippi Delta.”
The Blues Magazine

Mississippi Boweavil Blues

“When I first heard Charley Patton, I didn’t really like it.  I couldn’t hear anything he was saying — it just sounded like a bunch of mumbled, marbles-in-his-mouth kind’ve badly-recorded blues music.  When I first heard it, I said whatever — maybe I’ll get back to this some other time…  But next time I listened to it and the third time… the filters started to come off and I started to really realize what he was putting down and why he was probably so influential to everyone around him.”
Jack White

Patton was good. Patton was one of the best talents I ever had and he’s one of the best soloists too on record.”
H.C. Speir

Shake It & Break It

“He was such a bizarre character, almost like an alien.  Like Hank Williams or Michael Jackson.  What these artists exude just seems unearthly.”
Jack White

His light complexion gave rise to various conjectures as to his racial origins — he was always considered African American, but in fact was a mix of black, white, and Native American Cherokee.”
The Blues Magazine

Down the Dirt Road Blues

“He’s doing very strange chord changes and very strange tempos and ideas are going on there.  And some of these are the building blocks of popular music that we hear nowadays.”
Jack White

In addition to creating a brand of blues featuring complex rhythms, accented by percussive taps on his guitar, elongated melodies, and a slide-guitar technique that cut a path virtually every other Delta bluesman had to acknowledge, Patton was also a convincing songwriter, often including in his songs astute social commentary.

Mississippi Boweavil Blues told of the plague of insects that destroyed many Mississippi farms in the early 1900s.  Both part one and part two of High Water Everywhere describe the great Mississippi River flood of 1927.  Dry Well Blues is about a Mississippi drought.  Moon Going Down told of the destruction by fire of a Clarksdale mill.  Patton also sang of personal experiences.  When he was arrested in the town of Belzoni, he gave his side in High Sheriff Blues and Tom Rushen Blues.  He contemplated leaving Mississippi in Going to Move to Alabama.

Scouting the Delta – Mississippi Blues Trail

As a live performer his influence was felt by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf (who recalled seeing him play outdoors near Dockery Plantation in 1926), an entranced John Lee Hooker and a young Robert Johnson…  [He was] famous for his flamboyant showmanship, but equally stunning was the imagery he brought to his self-penned songs, full of the local color of the South in numbers like Green River Blues, Down the Dirt Road Blues and his celebrated account of the 1927 Mississippi floods, High Water Everywhere.”
The Blues Magazine

High Water (For Charley Patton) – Bob Dylan

“That he was able to be influential enough that all those blues singers would follow him around…  You’re talking about a lot of egos and a lot of ideas — a lot of free men that were not listening to any rules or anyone telling them what to do.  The fact that they’re following somebody around shows that his influence must’ve been pretty strong back then.”
Jack White

When [he] played his guitar, he would turn it over backwards and forwards, and throw it around over his shoulders, between his legsthrow it up in the sky…  The first piece I ever played in my life was a tune about hook-up-my-pony and saddle-up-my-black-mare.”
Howlin’ Wolf

A Spoonful Blues

He was a heavy drinker, a carouser, a womanizer, a brawler, once getting his throat slashed in a fight.

[He] helped define not only the musical genre but also the image and lifestyle of the rambling Mississippi bluesman.”
– Mississippi Blues Trail

“There were people before Charley Patton, but he was the first big name.  And what makes him important is the people who followed him — Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Son House — they all followed him around and were copying what he was coming up with.  They took it out and spread it across the Delta and then onward and upward to Chicago and the rest of the world.”
Jack White

[Unless otherwise noted, excerpts taken from A Century of the Blues by Robert Santelli, Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues]

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