Charlie Patton: The Father of the Delta Blues

Robert Russell By Robert Russell, 2nd Apr 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Music>Blues

Charlie Patton is less well known than Robert Johnson to the general public. However, Patton was far better known in the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s than Johnson was. Patton is the founding father of the Mississippi Delta blues. He was a significant influence on Johnson and many others.

The Significance of Charlie Patton

Charley Patton is regarded as the father of the Mississippi Delta blues. He was born in 1891, or maybe a couple of years earlier, and died in 1934. Patton traveled and performed extensively throughout the Delta before recording for the Paramount label a few years before his death. Patton was introduced to Paramount label by H.C Speir the Mississippi talent scout responsible for discovering many of important Mississippi bluesmen such as Robert Johnson and Skip James. Patton recorded over fifty songs for Paramount between 1929 and 1934 in Grafton Wisconsin. The complete recordings are available in five CD set by JSP Records titled "Charley Patton: The Complete Recordings 1929-1934." The original recordings have been re-mastered significantly improving the sound quality of the recordings. One of the other highlights of the Complete Recordings is that they include recordings from Patton's musical colleagues that accompanied him on the trip north. Son House and Willie Brown are recordings from 1930. Willie Brown was a legendary guitar player in the Delta who often played with Patton. Brown performs a few songs on his and accompanies Patton on a few tunes. Son House performs four songs including "Preaching Blues" that was to become one of his most well known songs. The legendary Mississippi fiddle player Henry Sims is featured on four songs from a 1929 recording session.

"The Complete Recordings" provide a important insight into musical career of a early 20th century Mississippi bluesman such as Patton. Patton's repertoire was not limited to blues. Patton also played spirituals, ballads, folk tunes as well as white hillbilly songs. Patton and his contemporaries played in all types of settings, for white as well as black audiences, which required a flexible musical repertoire. Johnny Shines, who was a contemporary of Patton and Robert Johnson, said that Johnson's musical repertoire also included a variety of genres besides blues. Johnson only recorded 29 songs in his short life and they were all original blues numbers. It would have been interesting to see what additional recording opportunities would have produced.

Although "The Complete Recordings" showcase the range and diversity of Patton, Patton's blues numbers are where his significance and talent shine through. Patton's guitar style was primitive and raw on the one hand, and subtle and refined on the other. Patton played with a very aggressive and percussive style oftentimes accompanying melody notes by beating syncopated rhythms on the guitar. Patton's voice is harsh and beautiful at the same time. Anyone who has listened to Patton knows that deciphering the lyrics can be practically impossible at times. However, the power of Patton's voice, like his guitar, resides in the feel and the intensity rather than in the actual words song. At the same time, Patton's lyrics are important because they present a historical document of the culture of his time.

Johnson died in 1938 at the age of 27 and Patton died a few years earlier in 1934. Patton was in his forties when he died of heart failure. Johnson was at the beginning of his musical career when he was killed. Patton was a seasoned blues musician with over twenty years of experience before he made his first recordings in 1929. Patton's musical influence at the time was much more significant than Johnson's. Patton's musical talent, his stage presence and charisma, and his success influenced and encouraged many younger musicians in the Delta including Robert Johnson and Son House. Patton was a significant influence on Pop Staples, John Lee Hooker, and Howlin' Wolf. Wolf's vocal style and onstage persona were taken directly from watching Patton perform. "The Complete Recordings" shine a light on one of the major figures who was to play such a significant role in the evolution of the blues.


Acoustic Blues, Charlie Patton, Mississippi Blues, Robert Johnson, Son House

Meet the author

author avatar Robert Russell
I play guitar professionally in a Cajun/zydeco band named Creole Stomp. We are a nationally touring band that have been together ten years. I also have a PhD in philosophy.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
2nd Apr 2012 (#)

Great study is so nice to learn about people who have donated their talents to the world...thank you

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author avatar Robb714
3rd Apr 2012 (#)

I like Robert Johnson!

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