There can be little doubt in the minds of blues aficionados as to who was perhaps at the front of the line in developing the recorded rough and tumble style now regarded as 'Delta Blues.' It was Charley Patton. Plain and simple. Others may have recorded actual blues prior to him entering a studio, but Patton remains the first to have waxed such a tough and riveting style. Born in 1891, Patton's family moved from the hill country to the Delta and landed at Dockery's Plantation. There resided one Henry Sloan, a guitarist and singer of enormous influence who had a definite impact on young Charley. It's unfortunate that Sloan never made it into a recording studio as it would be interesting to see where the teacher left off and his young student picked up. With that being said, Charley Patton did become one of the most sought-after barrelhouse entertainers of his time; instead of rambling from town to town in search of gigs, his popularity was such that the juke joints sought him out to play frolics, suppers, fish fries, and parties. Add to that a very short recording career which commenced in 1929 and was over by 1934, a mere five years, yet in those five years, Charley Patton waxed some of the most fierce and powerful music ever to roll out of Mississippi and though he passed away a few short months after his final session, his music will forever stand as an indelible mark in blues history.
This new CD sampler from Revenant Records is only a taste of what's in store. A dream of the late John Fahey for many years, the Austin-based label is planning the release (slated for October 2001) of a 7-disc set that will include all Patton's recordings and known test pressings and all known tracks where Patton played a pivotal role in a supporting role to other artists. That in itself will be five full CD's while another disc of those in Patton's "orbit" will be included focusing on Son House, Bukka White, Kid Bailey, Willie Brown, and more. The final disc in the set will be interviews about Patton conducted with his peers and players he ran with and influenced. The interviews are with Pops Staples, Howlin' Wolf, and others. The 74 minutes of music on this CD are stellar and more than enough to whet the appetite of those interested in Delta blues.
Patton himself takes the first dozen cuts here and I'll point out some highlights. "High Water Everywhere" was a two-part masterpiece of incredible tension with Charley's rough-hewn vocals over a driving guitar pattern and the sampler includes 'Part 1' of what is regarded by many to be the finest 'race recording' ever made. "A Spoonful Blues" includes some excellent guitar work as Patton tells of his trials with cocaine. His use of the instrument to finish his own vocal lines shows to great effect here, while "Mississippi Boweavil Blues" details the insect that ravaged crops on plantations all over the South, including Dockery's, where Patton resided for a lengthy spell. Again he lets his six-string complete his thoughts. "Some Summer Day" uses the "Sitting On Top Of The World" melody and his slide work here is restrained while the muscular rhythm lays a great foundation. Also included are 'Part 1' of both "Jim Lee" and the spellbinding "Prayer Of Death." It may also point to where Son House learned the basis of his style. "High Sheriff Blues" is remarkable as Patton recalls his run-ins with the lawman, while "Revenue Man Blues" warns of the law and women craving alcohol over yet another drilling rhythm, this one full of bass string runs and percussive snaps. As a bonus, there's an unissued test pressing of "Elder Greene Blues" where Patton is joined by Henry Sims and his fiddle and Bertha Lee (Jones) Patton is especially convincing on "Mindreader Blues" where she's assisted by Charley.
The second half of excellence continues as it focuses on those who relied on Patton's style as an influence and starting point. There are 11 exceptional tracks by the those in Patton's "orbit" and Bukka White is hefty with his "Sic 'Em Dogs On Me." Absolute brilliance shows in the form of an 'Unknown Group' and their 'Unknown Title.' A storming Delta blues packed with riveting guitar snaps and an insistent rhythm while the vocal work shows someone comfortable and well-versed in the Mississippi Lowlands school. Another unissued test is Louise Johnson's "All Night Long Blues" which features some tough piano and growling vocals from Johnson who made the trip to Paramount's Grafton, WS, studios with Patton, Son House and Willie Brown. Both House and Brown are here with "County Farm Blues" and "M & O Blues" respectively. Also showing up are Kid Bailey with his rugged "Rowdy Blues" and Buddy Boy Hawkins with the fun "Snatch It And Grab It." The absolute stunner in the 'peers of Patton' is Willie Lofton's "Dark Road Blues" showing an incredible amount of talent both vocally and instrumentally. Blazing Delta guitar runs played at breakneck pace lay a solid backdrop for his Tommy Johnson-charged vocals as he lets loose with falsetto howls and an ability to throw his voice; it's as if there are two distinct characters at work here. The closing track is an excerpt from a Gayle Dean Wardlow interview with Rev. Booker T. Miller, a protégé of Patton's. Miller explains where Charley started and gives brief examples of some of the first songs Charley learned.
The 74 minutes of music are beautifully packaged with the cover (unavailable at present) showing what Paramount used for the picture of 'The Masked Marvel.' The label ran a competition in 1929 for Patton's own "Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues" where listeners were invited to send in a contest blank and vote for who they thought the 'Marvel' might be. It's a safe bet that Paramount wound up giving away records as Patton should have been easily recognized as the man masquerading behind the mask, not that there's much similarity between Patton's known photo and the cartoon character Paramount came up with, but his voice was unmistakable. Revenant also included a couple of beautiful 'Masked Marvel' postcards and a nicely done foldout with information on the coming release. Sound quality is excellent in the sampler and hopefully that will continue in the complete set. When it all comes forth this October, the package will include a reprint of John Fahey's 1970 book on Patton, lyric transcripts (a major help for those attempting to decipher the gravel-voiced Patton's words), full-size ad reprints which Paramount ran in the Chicago Defender, and a full set of label stickers from all Paramount, Vocalion, and Herwin releases! This is a tall order indeed and John Fahey can rest easy knowing what he dreamed of for so long will finally come to fruition with consummate care and dedication. email@example.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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