Posts Tagged ‘Charley Patton’

Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. (March 21, 1902 (Lyon, Miss)– October 19, 1988 (Detroit, Mich.)) was an American blues singer and guitarist.

House pioneered an innovative style featuring strong, repetitive rhythms, often played with the aid of slide guitar, and his singing often incorporated elements of southern gospel and spiritual music.

He was an important influence on Muddy Waters and also on Robert Johnson, who would later take this style of music to new levels.
A seminal Delta blues figure, House remains influential today, with his music being covered by many.

The middle of seventeen brothers, House was born in Riverton, two miles from Clarksdale, Mississippi.  Around age seven or eight, he was brought by his mother to Tallulah, Louisiana after his parents separated.  The young Son House was determined to become a Baptist preacher, and at age 15 began his preaching career.  Despite the church’s firm stand against blues music and the sinful world which revolved around it, House became attracted to it.  He taught himself guitar in his mid 20s, after moving back to the Clarksdale area, inspired by the work of Willie Wilson.

He began playing alongside Charley Patton, Willie Brown, Robert Johnson, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin, and Leroy Williams, around Robinsonville, Mississippi and north to Memphis, Tennessee until 1942.

He played mostly at weekend parties held at sharecroppers houses.  He would sometimes preach at various churches, and then go out that night and play blues.  Back then the two were virtually mutually exclusive.

After killing a man, allegedly in self-defense, he spent time at Parchman Farm in 1928 and 1929.  The official story on the killing is that sometime around 1927 or 1928, he was playing in a juke joint when a man went on a shooting spree.  Son was wounded in the leg, and shot the man dead. He received a 15-year sentence at Parchman Farm prison.

Beacuse of his association with the already recorded Charley Patton, Son House was recorded for Paramount Records in 1930 and for Alan Lomax from the Library of Congress in 1941 and 1942.

In 1934 he married his wife, Evie, to whom he stayed married for his entire life.

In 1941 he was a tractor driver on the R.E.Neunlist plantation when he recorded for Lomax.  On Sept. 3, 1941, Lomax and John Work III recorded Son House, Willie Brown, Fiddlin’ Joe Martin, and Leroy Williams at the Clack Store (which was also a train station, and is now an empty, flat plot of land) in Robinsonville, Miss.  He recorded again in 1942, and then in 1943 he moved out of the delta to Rochester, New York, and into obscurity…  for the time being.

He faded from public view until the country blues revival in the 1960s when, after a long search of the Mississippi Delta region by Nick Perls, Dick Waterman and Phil Spiro, he was “re-discovered” in June 1964 in Rochester, New York where he had lived since 1943.  House had been retired from the music business for many years, working for the New York Central Railroad, and was completely unaware of the international revival of enthusiasm for his early recordings.

He subsequently toured extensively in the US and Europe and recorded for CBS records.   Like Mississippi John Hurt he was welcomed into the music scene of the 1960s and played at Newport Folk Festival in 1964, the New York Folk Festival in July 1965, and the October 1967 European tour of the American Folk Festival along with Skip James and Bukka White. In the summer of 1970, House toured Europe once again, including an appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival; a recording of his London concerts was released by Liberty Records.

Ill health plagued his later years and in 1974 he retired once again, and later moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he remained until his death from cancer of the larynx.  He was buried at the Mt. Hazel Cemetery. Members of the Detroit Blues Society raised money through benefit concerts to put a fitting monument on his grave. He had been married five times.

House’s innovative style featured strong, repetitive rhythms, often played with the aid of a bottleneck, coupled with singing that owed more than a nod to the hollers of the chain gangs.

The music of Son House, in contrast to that of, say, Blind Lemon Jefferson, was emphatically a dance music, meant to be heard in the noisy atmosphere of a barrelhouse or other dance hall.

It was House who, speaking to awe-struck young blues fans in the 1960s, spread the legend that Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical powers.  He was also the one who, later on, changed the supposed location of the crossroads by giving some writers the “true” location of the “real” corssroads (which was also completely bunk).

It is difficult to describe the transformation that took place as this smiling, friendly man hunched over his guitar and launched himself, bodily it seemed, into his music.  The blues possessed him like a ‘lowdown shaking chill’ and the spellbound audience saw the very incarnation of the blues as, head thrown back, he hollered and groaned the disturbing lyrics and flailed the guitar, snapping the strings back against the fingerboard to accentuate the agonized rhythm. Son’s music is the centre of the blues experience and when he performs it is a corporeal thing, audience and singer become as one.

MUSIC

James “Son” House (1902-1988) may have been the most powerful of the Delta Bluesmen.

While not as flashy a guitarist as some of his peers such as Bukka White, or as well known proteges (Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters both were schooled by Son), Son’s playing had a fierce edge to it. His voice and lyrics are powerful.

Son first recorded three tunes for Paramount in Grafton Wisconsin in 1930; My Black Mama (1 & 2), Preachin’ The Blues (1 & 2), Dry Spell Blues (1 & 2) as well as an unreleased version of Walking Blues.  His good friend Willie Brown traveled to Grafton with him and recorded Future Blues at this same session.

The Paramount records didn’t do well (as a result they are some of the rarest Blues 78s).  Son didn’t record again until August of 1941, when Alan Lomax made some field recordings of Son and Willie with a small string band.

They recorded again for Lomax in July of ’42. Ensemble pieces like Levee Camp Blues and Government Fleet Blues offer a glimpse of Son and Willie together.  Solo performances like Shetland Pony Blues (hear the train in the background?) and The Jinx Blues (1&2) from these sessions are among Son’s best.   Son did not make another commercial record until the “blues revival” of the 1960s. His influence, however, would be felt through the recordings of Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Robert Nighthawk, and other successful blues artists.  Modern Son House disciple John Mooney has combined Son’s Delta style with power trio Rock and New Orleans R&B to carry Son’s tradition into the 21st Century…

There’s a lot to learn here, musically and otherwise. Four O’Clock Blues is reminscent of Tommy Johnson’s Cool Drink of Water , the first words of Camp Hollers hint at where Howlin’ Wolf might have got Killing Floor from.

Son played various National single cones ( Duolians and Style “O”s), playing slide with a piece of copper tube(?) on his third finger in “Spanish”(Open G – DGDGBD) tuning.  By using his third finger ,Son was able to damp behind the slide and use his pinky for fretting.
The copper tube adds a gritty sound, which works great with a Duolian, Steel bodied “O” (or a new Delphi).

Son’s lyrics reflect the stark life he lead. This is the Delta Blues.

Patton made his first recording in June 1929, cutting fourteen songs for the Paramount label, all issued on 78s. Such was the success of his initial session that he was invited four months later to Paramount‘s new studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, where he recorded twenty-eight additional tunes.

Howlin’ Wolf, who moved to Dockery in 1926, recalled seeing Patton on the town square in Drew, not far from Dockery Plantation. Patton’s hypnotic three-note songs also deeply influenced Clarksdale‘s John Lee Hooker, who recorded his own version of Patton’s “Pea Vine Blues.” Bukka White also cited a desire “to come to be a famous man, like Charley Patton,” and demonstrated a similar knack for playing dance songs for extended periods. Patton’s last recording session was in New York City in February 1934, two months before his death.

Patton befriended House, who began working as a musician around the Kirby Plantation. In 1930, Patton brought him, guitarist Willie Brown, and pianist Louise Johnson to Grafton, Wisconsin, for a recording session with Paramount Records. House’s influence on the Delta School of musicians can be judged from a handful of recordings made in Grafton. His song “Preachin’ The Blues Part I & II” was a six-minute biography of his life and served as inspiration for Robert Johnson’s “Preaching Blues” and “Walking Blues.” House’s powerful vocals and slashing slide guitar style established him as a giant of the Delta School but did not lead to commercial success. House continued playing with Willie Brown during the 1930s and developed a relationship with a young Robert Johnson after moving to Robinsonville, Mississippi. After Johnson had learned to play guitar, he began to gig with House and Brown, learning the older musicians’ licks.

Tommy Johnson, the Crossroads, and Robert Johnson.

You all know the Crossroads story. Robert Johnson goes to the crossroads and sells his soul to the devil to become the greatest guitar player in the world. Thanks to a lot of misinformation this myth abounds. Only the original myth wasn’t about Robert Johnson at all! It was about Tommy Johnson (a fact that the movie O Brother Where Art Thou amazingly got correct!).

A quick note before I go on: How to sell your soul at the Crossroads:
Go to the crossroads (and it really is ANY crossroads, not a specific one) and stand in the middle of the intersection at midnight and play your best guitar. Someone (the devil) will come up to you from behind as you play. He will tap you on the shoulder. Without looking you hand your guitar to him over your back. He plays a few notes on the guitar and then hands it back to you. Congrats, you have sold your soul to the devil. Oh, and you still aren’t great. You have to continue to practice, but you will excel at an unbelievable rate, blah blah blah.

Anyway, around 1911 or so at about 15 years old Tommy Johnson wasn’t a great guitar player at all. He left his home in Mississippi and traveled. In his travels he met Charlie Patton and Willie Brown, who tutored him on the guitar. When he finally went back to Miss. he was not only significantly better on the guitar thanks to the tutiledge of Charlie Patton, but he also no longer sang religious songs, but sang the Blues (aka The Devil’s Music). He also drank a lot too. All of this together made for a very different person than the boy who left Miss., and led to the rumors of him selling his soul to the devil for his new skills on the guitar, and the reason for him now playing “The Devils Music”. So that’s the Crossroads story.  The story of selling your soul to the devil for riches, etc. is an old Hoodoo tale and can be traced back all the way to Africa.

Robert Johnson: Born in Miss. and moved to Memphis when he was 3. He stayed there till he was about 18 or so, and met Charlie Patton and Willie Brown when they travelled there, as well as Blind Lemon Jefferson when he traveled to Memphis, and met him again in Texas when he (Johnson) traveled there too. They taught him music.  In 1930, Robert’s wife and baby died during childbirth.  It was a few months later when Son House and Willie Brown came to Robinsonville, where Johnson was living.  Robert followed Son House and Willie Brown around wanting to play with them, but he was really bad, and so they wouldn’t let him play with them.  They did give him lessons here and there every now and then.  In 1931 he moves back to Hazlehurst, MIss., reportedly to try to find his father.  In Hazlehurst he meets a guitar player named Ike Zimmerman (or Zinnerman, either spelling seems to be OK).  For about a year Ike gives Robert Lessons, and he practices night and day, all the time.  At night he hangs out in a local cemetary and plays in the graveyard so that he doesn’t disturb anyone else with his playing in the middle of the night.  He then returns to the Clarksdale and Robinsonville areas in 1993 a MUCH better musician.  This was surprising to everyone, to say the least, often mystifying.  How could a kid who was so aweful dissapear for a year and then come back and play BETTER than his former teachers?

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Charlie Patton (though many spell his name as Charley, he himself spelled it Charlie) has come to reflect the strange icon the early Delta bluesman became.   Patton’s life and work were a wealth of contradictions and stereotypes that most bluesmen would come to characterize.
He has become known by many as the “Father of Delta Blues.”

A quick timeline of his life:

1887 – Patton born on farm outside of edwards, miss.
1897 – Probably moved to Dockery sometime before 1900
1908 – Minnie Toy marries Patton (his 2nd wife)
1917 – Patton was still at Dockery
1921 – met Minnie Franklin in Merigold, just after he left Dockery
1924 – Patton moves to Merigold (Six Mile Lake)
1929 – Patton records at his first sessions
1929 – Patton left Merigold
1929 – most likely moved to clarksdale somewhere in this timeframe he lived in Lula w/ Bertha Lee
1933 – Patton arrived in Holly Ridge w/ Bertha Lee – he was in his 40s supposedly
1934 – Patton went to NY to record and took Bertha Lee with him
1934 – April – Patton dies

Charlie was born to sharecroppers Bill and Annie Patton in Hinds County between Edwards and Bolton, Mississippi sometime between 1884 and 1889.   His gravestone states April 1891, and the Mississippi Blues Trail marker by his grave also states 1891.  His ex-wife Minnie Franklin and others that knew him, however, said that he was born in 1887.  The Pattons moved to Dockery Plantation around 1897.  This was where a young Charlie most likely began to learn guitar.  Most accounts have Charlie coming under the tutelage of Henry Sloan, an early blues musician.   Little is known of Sloan, but he may have been one of the very first bluesmen.

Two of Patton’s later accompanists, Tommy Johnson and Son House, both stated Charlie “dogged every step” of Sloan’s. This was to great chagrin of Patton’s father, and by 1906 (at around age 15, if you go by the 1891 birth date) Charlie was on his own.  By 19 years of age  he had already written “Pony Blues” (again, depending on when you think he was born – he composed it in 1910) a now classic blues song, since covered by many (Rory Block, Canned Heat, Son House, Dave Honeyboy Edwards, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and many others).  “Pony Blues” was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2006. The board selects songs in an annual basis that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”   By this time he had also composed “Down The Dirt Road Blues,” and a slow drag called “Banty Rooster Blues.”

From this time on, Charlie constantly moved and played, never staying in the same town for more than two years.   Patton somehow gleaned a decidedly different yet traditional sound during the initial years of his wandering, incorporating a very percussive element by smacking his guitar at times.  Patton never worked in the fields, and survived by living off of his female admirers and his performances.   He lived all of his life, with the exception of one recording trips to Indiana in 1929 and New York in 1934, in the Delta between Tunica and Yazoo City.   Patton’s primary performing area was a triangle between Clarksdale, Indianola, and Cleveland.  Patton was an amiable man to most, playing with just about any musician available, which could account for his characterization as leader of the “Drew” group of four bluesmen.   These men played almost any function in the area and eventually became local stars to the African-American workers.   Patton’s songs greatly influenced the “Drew” group of Tommy Johnson, Son House, Willie Brown, and Kid Bailey.

Charley learned from Henry Sloan, and directly taught Son House, Willie Brown, and Tommy Johnson, and directly influenced Robert Johnson, Bukka White, and Howlin’ Wolf.

Sometime after the turn of the decade (1910) Patton began playing with Willie Brown, a guitarist who would later become a regular on his recordings. Patton’s music began to exert considerable influence; guitarist Tommy Johnson had moved to the Dockery vicinity circa 1913 and was soon playing Delta blues including Patton’s “Pony Blues.”   Around 1914, Patton began playing his guitar with members of the Chatmon family (who were related to him – Sam Chatmon was his half-brother), working picnics and frolics. Bo, Sam, and Lonnie Chatmon and guitarist Walter Vinson later would gain fame as the Mississippi Sheiks. Bo Chatmon also recorded many titles as soloist Bo Carter. Patton continued playing and rambling around the Delta, going north to Memphis and as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana. By 1926, a young Robert Johnson had begun following Patton, Brown, and Son House to gigs trying to learn from the veteran guitarists.  He tried to play with them and failed miserably.  To Son House and Charley Patton (at the time) Robert Johnson was really nothing other than a pesky, nuisance kid following them around.

Rather than bumming his way from town to town, Patton would be called up to play at plantation dances, juke joints, and the like. He’d pack them in like sardines everywhere he went, and the emotional sway he held over his audiences caused him to be tossed off of more than one plantation by the ownership, simply because workers would leave crops unattended to listen to him play any time he picked up a guitar.

Johnson and Brown most likely met Patton near Rolling Fork, Mississippi around 1915. They would then follow him off and on for the next two years as students.  Tommy Johnson and Willie Brown were Patton’s primary accompanists, backing him on rhythm guitar.   Son House and Kid Bailey were students of Brown and Johnson’s who would eventually go on to teach Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and to a small extent, Robert Johnson.

Howlin’ Wolf, who moved to Dockery in 1926, recalled seeing Patton on the town square in Drew, not far from Dockery Plantation. Patton’s hypnotic three-note songs also deeply influenced Clarksdale’s John Lee Hooker, who recorded his own version of Patton’s “Pea Vine Blues.” Bukka White also cited a desire “to come to be a famous man, like Charley Patton,” and demonstrated a similar knack for playing dance songs for extended periods.

Patton’s music was much harder and propulsive than others, and he set the standard for which the other musicians composed songs.  Charlie Patton, and subsequently country artists like Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams, held no constriction to a genre mentally.  This was typical of many of the blues artists from the pre-war era.  In order to survive they had to play blues, as well as dancable music, and traditional and “folk” songs that the people that they were playing for knew.  Lead Belly was well known to have a HUGE repertoire.  Patton’s “Going To Move To Alabama” is a prime example of this integration.   The song is the basic blues form, but the fiddle accompaniment adds the distinct sound of a white country song.   Hank Williams’s “Move It on Over” is an almost blatant copy of Patton’s song.

Patton used altered speech, slide nuance, and picked bass runs to increase the effect of his songs.   Whereas other early blues musicians emphasized beat over lyrics, Patton emphasized both.   He had an eye for great story compositions, such as “Tom Rushen Blues”, a laughable song about the sheriff of Merigold, Mississippi circa 1927.  Patton included regional landmarks in his tunes – places that a local record-buying audience would be familiar with, including a Moorehead, Mississippi railroad crossing, “Where The Southern Crosses The Dog,” in “Green River Blues” and Parchman Farm in “A Spoonful Blues.”

The tone of Patton’s music greatly changed after 1930, when his throat was cut in a knife fight.  Sleepy John Estes claimed he was the loudest blues singer he ever heard and it was rumored that his voice was loud enough to carry outdoors at a dance up to 500 yards away without amplification.  Patton is generally regarded as one of the original architects of putting blues into a strong, syncopated rhythm, and his strident tone was achieved by tuning his guitar up a step and a half above standard pitch instead of using a capo.

Son House, who recorded in a 1930 session that also featured Patton and Brown, recalled that Charley “clowned” for an audience by playing the guitar behind his back or between his knees.  Sam Chatmon called him a “Clowning man with a guitar.”  He essentially invented showboating and was very much the predecessor of T-Bone Walker, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix.

Patton made his first recording in June 1929, cutting fourteen songs for the Paramount label, all issued on 78s. Such was the success of his initial session that he was invited four months later to Paramount’s new studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, where he recorded twenty-eight additional tunes. Patton’s polyrhythmic picking, accompanied by tapping the body of the guitar, created an intricate dance melody that its author could play for thirty minutes or more.

His later works proved to be more religious, like he somehow knew his death was soon to come.  Patton’s last recording session was in New York City in February 1934, two months before his death.

One account of his death states that Patton died on April 28, 1934 in the small town of Holly Ridge, Mississippi.  Another states that he died in Indianola.

However, I believe that both Gayle Dean Wardlow and Dave “Honeyboy” Edwards states that he died in Holly Ridge.  In his book, “Chasin’ That Devil Music” Gayle Dean Wardlow states that he meets a woman in Holly Ridge, Evaline Gaynes, who tells him that Patton died “in Tom Robinson’s house, over there” (over there meaning within eye sight of the Holly Ridge general store where she was interviewed about Patton).  However, she also said that Patton died a natural death (he didn’t), and that his wife Bertha Lee was 17 when she came from Lula (more like 30) and married Charley and they moved to Holly Ridge in 1933.

Portions of this were lifted from Groovey Records at:  http://www.oldschoolguitar.com/board/showthread.php?t=107

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The Mississippi Sheiks consisted mainly of the Chatmon family, who came from Bolton, Mississippi and were well known throughout the Mississippi Delta; the father of the family had been a “musicianer” during times of black slavery, and his children carried on the musical spirit. Their most famous (although by no means permanent) member was Armenter Chatmon – better known as Bo Carter – who managed a successful solo career as well as playing with the Sheiks, which may have contributed to their success. The band named themselves after Rudolph Valentino’s film The Sheik (1921).

When the band first recorded in 1930, the line-up consisted of Carter with Lonnie and Sam Chatmon, and Walter Vinson. Charlie McCoy (not to be confused with Charlie McCoy, a later American musician) played later, when Bo Carter and Sam Chatmon ceased playing full time. It was Lonnie Chatmon and Vinson who formed the real centre of the group.

Charley Patton was related to the Chatmon’s.  He was Sam Chatmon’s half-brother.  The musicians were the sons of Ezell Chatmon, uncle of Charlie Patton and leader of an area string band that was popular around the turn of the century.

While playing for a white square dance in Itta Bena, Mississippi, they were discovered by local record dealer Ralph Lembo. Lembo arranged for their first OKeh recording session. In February 1930, the field recording unit of OKeh set up in Shreveport, Louisiana. Polk Brockman was the producer/manager, and was the overseer of the first session. Their biggest hits were “Sitting On Top of the World” and the legendary, “Stop and Listen Blues ..2″, the title take from the railroad crossing warning: “Stop-Look-Listen,” both written by Vinson and Carter. The majority of the Sheiks’ recordings were made by Vinson (somtimes referred to as a cousin) on vocals and guitar, and Lonnie, apparently the only family member, along with Bo, who was capable of reading music. Lonnie Chatmon died in the early 1940′s. Walter Vinson was discovered during the first blues revival during the 1960′s, made several recordings then died in 1975. Bo Carter too was found in the 1960′s, he was extremely poor and blind.

Their first and biggest success was “Sitting On Top Of The World” (1930), later to be recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, Nat King Cole, Bill Monroe, Bob Wills (numerous times), Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Cream, the Grateful Dead and Jack White, and re-done by Robert Johnson, and called Come On in My Kitchen.

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