Charley Patton

TrackFirst recording
Down The Dirt Road BluesParamount 12854 (14 June 1929)
Mississippi Boweavil BluesParamount 12805 (14 June 1929)
Screamin' And Hollerin' The BluesParamount 12805 (14 June 1929)
Pony BluesParamount 12792 (14 June 1929)
Banty Rooster BluesParamount 12792 (14 June 1929)
High Water EverywhereParamount 12909 (October 1929)
Jesus Is A Dying-Bed MakerParamount 12986 (October 1929)
Moon Going DownParamount 13014 (Summer 1930)
Bird Nest BoundParamount 13070 (Summer 1930)
34 BluesVocalion 02651 (31 January 1934)

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Contributor: Cal Taylor

Charley Patton is the best Blues artiste ever recorded. It has not been definitely established when he was born (1887 to 1891) but he would have been only in his forties when he died on 28 April 1934.

Charley (or Charlie, as he is said to have spelled it) only recorded in the last five years of his life and we can only guess at what might have been had fate been different. How blessed we are to have 52 recordings (plus a few alternative takes) that have survived, with his uniquely distinct vocals. He has been called, “King”, “Father” and “Voice” of the Delta Blues – he was all those and more.

Choosing a top 10 has been an extremely difficult proposition – a top 40 in no particular order would have been far easier!

He had probably been entertaining twenty years before he was recorded and most of my selections come from his first two sessions in 1929, when he recorded 38 different tracks for the Paramount label – 14 tracks were recorded in June in Richmond, Indiana and a further 24 were recorded about four months later in Grafton, Wisconsin. These songs would have come from his repertoire over many years. He recorded a further excellent 4 tracks in 1930, again for Paramount in Grafton. We must be eternally grateful for these 42 tracks but it is a great pity that these recordings were made using inferior equipment with the actual records made of poor quality material. After a gap of over three years and only three months before his death he recorded the other 10 remaining titles. These were recorded in New York between 30 January and 1 February 1934 for the American Record Company (ARC) and issued on their Vocalion label.

It seems perverse that while he was ailing and re-recording some of his previous best sellers he was now doing so on superior equipment that would be issued on good quality records. The 1934 sessions did produce some new classics but by this time the Depression had really bitten deep and ARC, who looked to make any savings they could, destroyed any masters not used. Arrrgh! Charlie recorded 26 vocals altogether (including some with his wife Bertha Lee) over the three days – 16 of these never saw the light of day, were wiped out and are now lost without trace, forever!

We must all accept what fate brings but it is only human to speculate what might have been had Charlie’s best recordings been made using better equipment and issued on better quality shellac. Also, what if ARC hadn’t been so penny-pinching … but, no matter what, we are left with a wonderful 52 recordings that I can say, categorically, have enriched my life.

The tracks listed here appear on various modern day compilations including the 3CD box set The Definitive Charley Patton (Catfish KATCD180) plus Charley Patton The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order on 3 CDs (Document DOCD 5009, 5010 & 5011).

I do not think it is a coincidence that five of this ten were the very first five tracks Charlie actually recorded – I think he must have decided to sing his best songs first when finally given the opportunity to commit to posterity. I have placed my personal favourite, Down The Dirt Road Blues, at the top. (It is mis-named as Charlie sings about a dark road not a dirt road – but, oddly enough in Paramount’s scant log details they changed the title from ‘Over The Sea Blues’!) All others are listed chronologically. Included in my ten is a single religious item, Jesus Is A Dying-Bed Maker, on which Charlie’s guitar work excels. About thirty tracks just missed my top 10 – such is the consistent high quality of Charlie’s output: It Won’t Be Long, Pea Vine Blues, Tom Rushen Blues, Hammer (should be hammock) Blues, Mean Black Cat Blues, Rattlesnake Blues and Dry Well Blues could all have been included, plus several others, but I’m told that you can only have ten in a top 10! I’ve included one title from Charlie’s last sessions and that is 34 Blues recorded on 31 January 1934 when, after a bad year in 1933, he wondered what ’34 would bring. In less than three months Charlie was dead … but what a legacy he left.

Charley Patton biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #37

1 Comment

  1. Peter Viney
    Aug 3, 2013

    Charley Patton gets a mention in virtually every Bob Dylan set list with High Water (For Charley Patton) one of his most played songs of the last decade. It was on Love & Theft in 2001. It isn’t Charley Patton’s High Water Everywhere though Bob played that on air in his DJ role on ‘Theme Time Radio Hour’ in the “Water” show. The Dylan song does re-write a line from Patton’s Shake It and Break It. All I have is the Orbis “Blues Collection” volume, which doesn’t have High Water Everywhere. That CD sounds “straight off the 78” to me. There were some CDs a few years back where they applied the latest technology to pull some early jazz out of the hiss and crackle with startling results. Has that been done on any Charley Patton collections? And would it be a good thing or a bad thing?

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