Essential Collection of Blues Pioneer Charley Patton

Charley Patton and Various Artists -  The Definitive Charley Patton - 75 Year Anniversary Edition
Charley Patton and Various Artists – The Definitive Charley Patton – 75 Year Anniversary Edition
Charley Patton and Various Artists

The Definitive Charley Patton – 75 Year Anniversary Edition (Proper Records, 2009)

Considered as one of the fathers of the Mississippi Delta blues, Charley Patton was performing professionally and writing songs by the age of 19. Armed with a collection of country, Southern folk and pop tunes, as well as blues numbers, Patton worked the rounds of the party, juke joint and fish fry circuit before stepping in front of the mikes in 1929 to set down 14 tracks in wax for Paramount Records.

While not the first blues musician to record, both Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake had recorded earlier, Patton found some success with his first Paramount recording, especially with the tunes “Pony Blues” and “Banty Rooster Blues.” He would go on to record three more sessions for Paramount and one last time for the American Recording Company in New York City in 1934.

In the process of recording and lively live performances, Patton becomes a powerful influence to his contemporaries, like Son House and Willie Brown. His reputation and music serves as a musical map pointing the way for the likes of a young Robert Johnson, who recorded his “Cross Road Blues” for the Vocalion label just two years after Mr. Patton died in 1934 at the age of 42 from heart failure.

Of course, the legacy run a little too deep in the hard, fast living of an early blues musician considering Patton had been slashed in the throat by a woman in 1933, with some speculating that he never recovered fully, and Robert Johnson’s untimely death in 1938 at the age of 27, supposedly poisoned because he’d been flirting with another man’s wife.

But Patton’s influence wasn’t to be thwarted by cheap, juke joint liquor, knife-wielding women or jealous husbands. Like an ever-expanding ripple in the musical pool, Patton’s music would seep into the sounds of Howlin’ Wolf and makes its way up to the Chicago blues scene. Slick licks and throaty strains would be picked up and passed along through iconic bluesman Muddy Waters and the British rock scene, especially through the group Cream.

Some have speculated that guitarists T-Bone Walker, Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix picked up their stylized guitar performances from Charley Patton, known for his raucous showmanship by playing the guitar between his legs and behind his back. Later, Bob Dylan would step up and pay tribute to Charley Patton with his song “High Water” on his 2001 recording Love and Theft.

Patton’s music is still bubbling up to the surface and making waves in today’s music, but like all worthwhile quests in order to understand the present you have to go back to the past. And, that’s exactly what Proper Records has done with their 3-CD and DVD box set The Definitive Charley Patton.

Assembling a collection of 26 tracks by Charley Patton and a host of other bluesmen and women, The Definitive Charley Patton builds a musical genealogical map that is rich and rewarding. With an accompanying booklet and a DVD featuring interviews with historian Luther Brown, writers Tony Russell, Nigel Williamson and Charles Shaar Murray along with musicians Charlie Musselwhite and Bob Brozman, this box set sets down Charley Patton on that musical map.

But Proper Records has gone a step further by ingeniously pairing Charley Patton tracks with similar versions by different musicians on the first two CDs. The first CD opens with Charley Patton’s “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” with Bessie Smith’s “Bo Weevil Blues.” Other pairings include Patton’s “Down the Dirt Road Blues” against Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues” and Patton’s “Some These Days I’ll Be Gone” and the delicious version of Ethel Waters’s “Some of These Days.” Of course, there are Patton tracks on CD one that simply shouldn’t be overlooked like “Pony Blues,” “A Spoonful Blues” and “Shake It and Break It,” nor tracks like Ma Rainey’s “Booze and Blues” or Papa Charlie Jackson’s “I’m Alabama Bound.”

Running in the same vein, CD two contains gems like Bessie Smith’s “Mountain Top Blues,” Patton’s sassy “High Water Everywhere Pt.1” paired with Mattie Delaney’s “Tallahatchie River Blues” and Patton’s “Jesus Is A Dying-Bed Maker” against Blind Willie Johnson’s “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed.” Proof that Patton was not only a bluesman is his folksy “Running Wild Blues.”

 

CD two also pairs Patton tracks “Moon Going Down” and “34 Blues” against Howlin’ Wolf’s “Crying At Daybreak” and the “Forty Four,” making the history of Patton’s influence wickedly apparent. Listeners also get the priceless pairing of “Yellow Bee,” with Patton on guitar and his wife Bertha Lee on vocals, and Memphis Minnie’s version of “Bumble Bee.”

CD three, while devoid of Charley Patton tracks, travels down the same dusty blues roads that Mr. Patton traveled, giving the listener an audio history of the Mississippi Delta blues and Mr. Patton’s indelible mark on that history. Intoxicating tracks like Bessie Smith’s “Mama’s Got the Blues,” Son House’s “Clarksdale Moan,” “The Pony Blues” and “The Jinx Blues,” as well as Kid Bailey’s “Rowdy Blues” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Saddle My Pony,” are powerful and irresistible evidence to the potency of the blues and its lasting effect on the music and musicians that were to follow.

The Definitive Charley Patton box set is yet another invaluable collection for the musician and the music lover, and Proper Records does it up right with stunning photographs and packaging, insightful liner notes and ingenious sequencing. Compiled and annotated by Russell Beecher, produced by White Crow Productions, transferring and mastering done by Paul Swinton Productions and Tom Willis and designed by Steven Mosely for Butterfly Effect, The Definitive Charley Patton overflows of expert craftsmanship. This collection is proof that buying the blues is worth every hard-earned, sweat-stained nickel.

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