Only known photograph of Patton
|Also known as||
April 1891 (probable)|
Hinds County, Mississippi, U.S.
April 28, 1934 (aged 43)|
Sunflower County, Mississippi
Charley Patton (died April 28, 1934), also known as Charlie Patton, was an American Delta blues musician. Considered by many to be the "Father of the Delta Blues", he created an enduring body of American music and inspired most Delta blues musicians. The musicologist Robert Palmer considered him one of the most important American musicians of the twentieth century.
Patton was born in Hinds County, Mississippi, near the town of Edwards, and lived most of his life in Sunflower County, in the Mississippi Delta. Most sources say he was born in April 1891, but the years 1881, 1885 and 1887 have also been suggested. Patton's parentage and race also are uncertain. His parents were Bill and Annie Patton, but locally he was regarded as having been fathered by former slave Henderson Chatmon, several of whose children became popular Delta musicians, as solo performers and as members of groups such as the Mississippi Sheiks. Biographer John Fahey described Patton as having "light skin and Caucasian features."
Patton was considered African-American, but because of his light complexion there has been much speculation about his ancestry over the years. One theory endorsed by blues musician Howlin' Wolf was that Patton was Mexican or Cherokee. It is now generally agreed that Patton was of mixed heritage, with white, black, and Native ancestors. Some believe he had a Cherokee grandmother; however, it is also widely asserted by historians that he was between one-quarter and one-half Choctaw. In "Down the Dirt Road Blues", Patton sang of having gone to "the Nation" and "the Territo'", referring to the Cherokee Nation's portion of the Indian Territory (which became part of the state of Oklahoma in 1907), where a number of Black Indians tried unsuccessfully to claim a place on the tribal rolls and thereby obtain land.
In 1897, his family moved 100 miles (160 km) north to the 10,000-acre (40 km2) Dockery Plantation, a cotton farm and sawmill near Ruleville, Mississippi. There, Patton developed his musical style, influenced by Henry Sloan, who had a new, unusual style of playing music, which is now considered an early form of the blues. Patton performed at Dockery and nearby plantations and began an association with Willie Brown. Tommy Johnson, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, Robert Johnson, and Chester Burnett (who went on to gain fame in Chicago as Howlin' Wolf) also lived and performed in the area, and Patton served as a mentor to these younger performers. Robert Palmer described Patton as a "jack-of all-trades bluesman", who played "deep blues, white hillbilly songs, nineteenth-century ballads, and other varieties of black and white country dance music with equal facility". He was popular across the southern United States and performed annually in Chicago; in 1934, he performed in New York City. Unlike most blues musicians of his time, who were often itinerant performers, Patton played scheduled engagements at plantations and taverns. He gained popularity for his showmanship, sometimes playing with the guitar down on his knees, behind his head, or behind his back. Patton was a small man, about 5 feet 5 inches tall, but his gravelly voice was reputed to have been loud enough to carry 500 yards without amplification; a singing style which particularly influenced Howlin' Wolf (even though Jimmy Rodgers, the "singing brakeman", has to be cited there primarily).
Patton settled in Holly Ridge, Mississippi, with his common-law wife and recording partner, Bertha Lee, in 1933. He died on the Heathman-Dedham plantation, near Indianola, on April 28, 1934, and is buried in Holly Ridge (both towns are located in Sunflower County). His death certificate states that he died of a mitral valve disorder. The death certificate does not mention Bertha Lee; the only informant listed is one Willie Calvin. Patton's death was not reported in the newspapers.
A memorial headstone was erected on Patton's grave (the location of which was identified by the cemetery caretaker, C. Howard, who claimed to have been present at the burial), paid for by musician John Fogerty through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund in July 1990. The spelling of Patton's name was dictated by Jim O'Neal, who also composed the epitaph.
Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton, a boxed set collecting Patton's recorded works, was released in 2001. It also features recordings by many of his friends and associates. The set won three Grammy Awards in 2003, for Best Historical Album, Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package, and Best Album Notes. Another collection of Patton recordings, The Definitive Charley Patton, was released by Catfish Records in 2001.
Patton's song "Pony Blues" (1929) was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2006. The board annually selects recordings that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
In 2013, Jack White's Third Man Records teamed up with Document Records to reissue The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order of Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell and the Mississippi Sheiks.
In 2017 Charley Patton’s story was told in the award-winning documentary series American Epic. The film featured unseen film footage of Patton’s contemporaries and radically improved restorations of his 1920s and 1930s recordings. Director Bernard MacMahon observed that "we had a strong feeling that the music of Patton and his peers reflected the local geography, and I was struck by the extent to which that belief was already shared by people who were living in the Delta back then, when it was a center of musical innovation. Listening to interviews with H. C. Speir, who owned a furniture store in Jackson in the 1920s and was responsible for virtually all the recordings of early Delta blues, he clearly linked the music to its surroundings." Charley Patton’s story was profiled in the accompanying book, American Epic: The First Time America Heard Itself.
The Mississippi Blues Trail placed its first historical marker on Patton's grave in Holly Ridge, Mississippi, in recognition of his legendary status as a bluesman and his importance in the development of the blues in Mississippi. It placed another historic marker at the site where the Peavine Railroad intersects Highway 446 in Boyle, Mississippi, designating it as a second site related to Patton on the Mississippi Blues Trail. The marker commemorates the lyrics of Patton's "Peavine Blues", which refer to the branch of the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad which ran south from Dockery Plantation to Boyle. The marker notes that riding on the railroad was a common theme of blues songs and was seen as a metaphor for travel and escape.
- Canned Heat (with Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson) covered Patton's songs "Pony Blues", "Shake It and Break It" and "Yellow Bee", and the group's 1969 single "Poor Moon" is a Wilson-arrangement of Patton's 1929 recording "Jesus Is a Dying Bedmaker".
- Bob Dylan dedicated "High Water (For Charley Patton)", on his 2001 album "Love and Theft", to Patton.
- The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, American country blues recording and touring artists, produced a tribute recording, Peyton on Patton, released on July 19, 2011. The album entered the Billboard blues album chart at number 7.
- French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel refers to Patton in the song "Cent Ans de Plus" on his 1999 album Hors-Saison.
- The indie rock band Gomez recorded "Charley Patton Songs" for their 2006 album How We Operate.
- Robert Crumb narrated Patton's life in a comic book.
- The 1980s New York punk-blues band Hi Sheriffs of Blue (which included the visual artists Mark Dagley, George Condo and Elliott Sharp) was named after the Patton song "High Sheriff Blues".
- Alvin Youngblood Hart covered Patton's songs "Pony Blues" and "Tom Rushen Blues" on the albums Big Mama's Door and Down in the Alley, respectively.
- Corey Harris covered "Pony Blues" on his debut album, Between Midnight and Day.
- Paul Geremia covered "Pony Blues" and "Shake It and Break It" on Love, Murder & Mosquitos and Self Portrait in Blues, respectively.
- Paul Rishell covered Patton's songs "Some of These Days" and "Down the Dirt Road Blues" on Swear to Tell the Truth and Talking Guitar, respectively.
- Paul Rishell and Annie Raines covered Patton's songs "Some of These Days" and "I'm Going Home" on their album Goin' Home.
- Rory Block covered Patton's song "Elder Green Is Gone" on her 1983 album Blue Horizon.
- Andrew Bird, in his song "Capsized", sings, "Now he's a dyin' bed maker. He's a dyin' bed maker Jesus gonna make my..." . He stated that he was struck by the lines in "Jesus Is a Dying Bed-Maker" by Patton.
- Taj Mahal covered Patton’s song “High Water Everywhere” in the 2017 award-winning documentary film The American Epic Sessions. He recorded the song direct-to-disc on the recording first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s.
|Recording Date||Recording Location||Matrix||Song||Paramount Issue #||Release Date|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15216||"Pony Blues"||12792-A||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15211||"Mississippi Boweavil Blues"||12805-B||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15214||"Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues"||12805-A||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15215||"Down the Dirt the Road Blues"||12854-A||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15217||"Banty Rooster Blues"||12792-B||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15221||"Pea Vine Blues"||12877-A||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15220||"It Won't Be Long"||12854-B||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15222||"Tom Rushen Blues"||12877-B||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15223||"A Spoonful Blues"||12869-B||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15224||"Shake It and Break It (But Don't Let It Fall Mama)"||12869-A||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15225||"Prayer of Death, Part 1"||12799-A||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15225A||"Prayer of Death, Part 2"||12799-B||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15226||"Lord, I'm Discouraged"||12883-A||1929|
|June 14, 1929||Richmond, Indiana||G15227||"I'm Going Home"||12883-B||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0038=1||"Elder Green Blues"*||12972-A||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0041||"Mean Black Cat Blues"||12943-A||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0050||"Heart Like Railroad Steel"||12953-B||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0047||"Hammer Blues"||12998-A||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0051||"Some Happy Day"||13031-A||1930|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0049||"When Your Way Gets Dark"||12998-B||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0040||"Devil Sent the Rain"*||13040-B||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0052||"You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die"||13031-B||1930|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0039||"Circle Round the Moon"*||13040-A||1930|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0048||"Magnolia Blues"||12943-B||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0043||"Some Of These Days, I'll Be Gone"||13110-B||1930|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0077||"Mean Black Moan"*||12953-A||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0044=3||"Green River Blues"||12972-A||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0061||"Jesus Is a Dying Bed Maker"*||12986-A||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0037=1||"Going Move to Alabama"*||13014-B||1930|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0059||"High Water Everywhere, Part 1"||12909-A||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0060||"High Water Everywhere, Part 2"||12909-B||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0062=2||"I Shall Not Be Moved"||12986-B||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0064=1||"Runnin' Wild Blues"*||12924-B||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0057||"Jim Lee Blues, Part 1"||13080-A||1930|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0058||"Jim Lee Blues, Part 2"||13133-B||1930|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0042=1||"Frankie and Albert"||13110-A||1930|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0067||"Joe Kirby"*||13133-A||1930|
|May 28, 1930||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0432=1||"Moon Going Down"†||13014-A||1930|
|May 28, 1930||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0433||"Bird Nest Bound"†||13070-A||1930|
|May 28, 1930||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0431||"Some Summer Day"†||13080-B||1930|
|May 28, 1930||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0429||"Dry Well Blues"†||13070-B||1930|
- Vocals and guitar by Patton, with Henry "Son" Sims on fiddle.
†Willie Brown on accompanying guitar
- 1929 Henry "Son" Sims Vocals, Patton accompanying guitar
|Recording Date||Recording Location||Matrix||Song||Paramount Issue #||Release Date|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0046||"Come Back Corrinna"||12912-A||1929|
|November 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0045||"Farrell Blues"||12912-B||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0066||"Be True, Be True Blues"||12940-A||1929|
|December 1929||Grafton, Wisconsin||L0065||"Tell Me Man Blues"||12940-B||1929|
|Recording Date||Recording Location||Matrix||Song||Vocalion Issue #||Release Date|
|January 30, 1934||New York City||14723=1||"Jersey Bull Blues"||02782-A||1934|
|January 30, 1934||New York City||14725=1||"High Sherriff Blues"||02680-A||1934|
|January 30, 1934||New York City||14727=1||"Stone Pony Blues"||02680-B||1934|
|January 31, 1934||New York City||14739=1||"34 Blues"||02651-B||1934|
|January 31, 1934||New York City||14746||"Love My Stuff"||02782-B||1934|
|January 31, 1934||New York City||14747||"Revenue Man Blues"||02931-A||1934|
|February 1, 1934||New York City||14749||"Oh Death"||02904-A||1934|
|February 1, 1934||New York City||14749||"Troubled 'Bout My Mother"||02904-B||1934|
|February 1, 1934||New York City||14757||"Poor Me"||02651-A||1934|
|February 1, 1934||New York City||14758||"Hang It On the Wall"||02931-B||1934|
Vocal duet with Bertha Lee
- 1934 Bertha Lee Vocals, Patton accompanying guitar
|Recording Date||Recording Location||Matrix||Song||Vocalion Issue #||Release Date|
|January 31, 1934||New York City||14735=1||"Yellow Bee"||02650-A||1934|
|January 31, 1934||New York City||14736=1||"Mind Reader Blues"||02650-B||1934|
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-  Archived July 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
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- Calt, Stephen; Gayle Wardlow (1988). King of the Delta Blues, The Life and Music of Charlie Patton. Newton, N.J.: Rock Chapel Press. ISBN 0-9618610-0-2. LCCN 87072899.
- Fahey, John (1966). A Textual and Musicological Analysis of the Repertoire of Charley Patton. M.A. thesis, University of California, Los Angeles. LCCN 67003863.
- Fahey, John (1970). Charley Patton. London: Studio Vista. ISBN 0-289-70030-2. LCCN 70548903.
- Palmer, Robert (1981). Deep Blues. New York City: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14006-223-8.
- Wardlow, Gayle Dean (1998). Chasin' That Devil Music: Searching for the Blues. Edward Komara, ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Miller Freeman Books. ISBN 0-87930-552-5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Charlie Patton.|
- History of Charley Patton recording on Paramount Records
- Charley Patton by R. Crumb
- Charley Patton Biography (Allmusic)
- Southern Music Network – Charley Patton
- The bluesman – Charley Patton (by Cub Koda)
- Charley Patton – Delta Blues
- Charley Patton Profile
- Works by or about Charley Patton at Internet Archive
- 1980 Induction into Blues Foundation Hall of Fame
- "Charley Patton". Find a Grave. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
- Mount Zion Memorial Fund.
- Milestone Charley Patton recordings at Three Perfect Minutes
- Works by or about Charley Patton in libraries (WorldCat catalog)