Founder of the Delta Blues

Patton, Charley

album cover

An American Original, Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues

The first blues celebrity, Charley Patton (1891–1934) was also one of the most important "Johnny Appleseed" figures in American music. Traveling from town to plantation in the Deep South, raising hell at every stop, Patton spread the catharsis of the blues to people who probably didn't realize how much they needed it until he showed up. He reached them first with sheer power: One follower, Sleepy John Estes, estimated that Patton's voice could be heard clear across a five-hundred-yard field without any help.

Once Patton had an audience, he would sing about riverboats and disasters, ponies (his signature song was "Pony Blues") and mean old black cats, the joys of female companionship and the dread of death. Piling verse atop intense verse, Patton made these tales resonate with sharp vocal inflections, and exaggerated emphasis on certain words. Virtually every other consequential blues singer picked up tricks from him—some, like Son House, learned directly, by following the entertaining whirlwind around, watching him alternate between rousing spirituals and bawdy blues. (Others heard the 78-RPM singles he recorded for Paramount, represented here.)

Founder of the Delta Blues and its companion, King of the Delta Blues, capture the highlights of Patton's brief recording career. The sound is compromised—because Paramount sold the masters (allegedly for scrap!), all that survives are the poor-quality 78s—and still Patton comes booming through. He's a fierce presence, a master of exhortation whose ideas spread in part because he did more than shout and holler. He persuaded.

Genre: Blues
Released: 2001, Yazoo
Key Tracks: "High Sheriff Blues," "Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues," "It Won't Be Long," "High Water Everywhere."
Catalog Choice: King of the Delta Blues; The Complete Recordings 1929–1934
Next Stop: Son House: Blues from the Mississippi Delta
After That: Howlin' Wolf: Moanin' in the Moonlight
Book Pages: 584–585

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