Our Top 10 Charley Patton Songs presents the best Charley Patton Songs like “High Water Everywhere,” ” Pony Blues,” and many more. Delta blues musician Charley Patton (also known as Charlie Patton) was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. Among historians, there’s an argument about the man’s actual birth year between 1881 and 1894. One piece of information that has been established about Charley Patton was an 1897 move to the Dockery Plantation near Ruleville, Mississippi. It was while there he was influenced by the musical style of Henry Sloan. At the time, this earliest American example of blues music was considered a new and unusual sound that had yet to sweep across the nation.
The ancestral background of Patton was never officially determined but his lighter skin complexion suggested he wasn’t purely African-American. There was speculation he may have also been part Mexican or Native American. One tribe, in particular, Cherokee, was mentioned as “Down the Dirt Road Blues” was a song coming from Patton that made reference to the tribe’s portion of the Indian territory now known as Oklahoma.
Jack of All Trades
Between the Dockery Plantation, as well as several other plantations nearby, Patton would perform his brand of blues music before a captivated audience. He also accompanied and mentored fellow musicians, Willie Brown, Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf), Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, and Fiddlin’ Joe Martin. Patton was considered by musical historians as a jack of all trades blues musician as his versatility as a performer included ballads, country dance, deep blues, and hillbilly songs. In the music industry, Charley Patton is still regarded as the Father of the Delta Blues.
The popularity of Charley Patton along the southern American states was vast. On a yearly basis, he ventured up to Chicago, Illinois, as an entertainer for its club scenes. In 1934, he also performed in New York City. Patton’s legacy as a performer often saw him get down on his knees as he played the guitar, as well as play it behind his head and hid his back. He sang with a grave voice that could carry as far as five hundred yards without the need of a sound amplifier. It was Patton’s lyrical talent and style that influenced Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmie Rodgers to perform in a similar manner vocally.
The Charley Patton Influence
The Delta blues musicians that influenced American music culture were pioneered by Charley Patton, as well as Henry Sloan before him. Its classification as a genre began with them. Several musical historians, as well as recording artists, regard Patton as one of the most important musicians that shaped American pop culture in the twentieth century. Despite his popularity which saw him pay visits to Chicago and New York City, Patton was born and raised as a Mississippi man, lived as a Mississippi man, and died as a Mississippi man.
He, along with his common-law wife, Bertha Lee, was a recording artist like he was. The two settled in Holly Ridge, Mississippi in 1933. However, the relationship the two shared together was a volatile one. Both of them were sent to jail after a major domestic dispute, bailed out, and escorted by W.R. Calaway from Vocalion Records to New York City. This would be where Patton would engage in his final recording session.
After returning from New York, Charley Patton died near Indianola on April 28, 1934. His body was buried in Holly Ridge. The cause of death suggested he died due to complications from a mitral valve disorder. His death was kept quiet by the media and he didn’t receive his own tombstone until 1990. Via the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund, John Fogerty paid for the tombstone.
Charley Patton’s Legacy
The Blues Hall of Fame inducted Charley Patton in 1980, recognizing him and his work for the cultural and historical influence he made. In 2001, there was a boxed set release that paid tribute to Charley Patton’s finest work as a Delta blues musician. Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton was an album that featured recordings by his closest associates. In 2003, it won Grammy Awards for Best Historical Album, Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package, and Best Album Notes. Also released in 2001 were Patton’s own recordings, The Definitive Charley Patton.
American Epic was a documentary that shared the story of Charley Patton, released for public viewing in 2017. It featured previously unseen footage of Patton, as well as restored recordings of the music he produced between the 1920s and 1930s. In 2021, Charley Patton was inducted as an Early Influence into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When traveling the Mississippi Blues Trail, there is a historical marker placed on Patton’s grave. It was the trail’s first placement, recognizing the legendary status of a man that was so much more than just a blues musician. Also on the trail is a marker at the Peavine Railroad site in Boyle, Mississippi. It served as a commemoration of “Peavine Blues” as Patton sang this in reference to the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad that ran between Boyle, Mississippi, and the Dockery Plantation.
Overall, Charley Patton released nearly seventy recordings of his music between 1929 and 1934. His gravel voice, accompanied by a heavily percussive guitar, paved the way for blues music to sweep the American nation. He was an inspiration to many, regardless of skin color. In addition to blues music, he also recorded gospel. Patton was an intense performer that didn’t hold back. Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, and Bukka White each looked up to the first genuine Delta blues star before following in his footsteps to do the same.
Top 10 Charley Patton Songs
# 10 – 34 Blues
While in New York City in 1934, “34 Blues” was a recording Charley Patton made while signed to the Vocalion label. This would be the final recording session he’d do before his death a few months later. In the song, he made reference to Will Dockery and Willie Brown. Sung as a troubled man, this came at a time when he and his common-law wife, Brenda Lee, were exiled from Mississippi after the fight they had between them got them into trouble with the law.
This unconventional New Years’ song asked the Lord what he had in mind for 1934 as the American people were still drowning in the Great Depression. For Patton, it was death. On April 28, 1934, his mitral valve disorder caught up with him and claimed his life.
#9 – Revenue Man Blues
“Revenue Man Blues” was among the final recordings made by Charley Patton. He, along with Bertha Lee, was in New York City at the time. As a Vocalion label, “Revenue Man Blues” was a song about the woes of the working man and his personal struggles. This song was recorded in 1934, at a time when the United States of America was still smacked in the middle of the Great Depression. Although he regarded himself as a great provider, he concluded by the end of the song that the world he lived in was full of deceit.
# 8 – Lord, I’m Discouraged
The first recording session Charley Patton experienced took place in Richmond, Indiana, in 1929. Among the fourteen tracks recorded, “Lord, I’m Discouraged” was one of them. It became a Delta blues favorite, as well as a blues standard that was covered by a long list of blues musicians that looked upon Patton as a father figure. Patton’s gravel vocals, along with his guitar style, turned otherwise mundane songs into easy favorites.
In addition to his reputation as a founding father of Delta blues music, Patton also performed gospel. Despite the title, “Lord, I’m Discouraged” was a song of encouragement that was credited as an important song that helped struggling Americans get through the Great Depression, as well as the Dirty Thirties that went with it.
#7 – A Spoonful Blues
Released on June 14, 1929, “A Spoonful Blues” was a song by Charley Patton that shared the tale of a man about to go to jail over a spoonful of drug-influenced trouble that got him arrested. It was one of the first songs he ever recorded, which took place in Richmond, Indiana. It was also one of many Howlin’ Wolf would record for himself as he accompanied and looked up to Patton at the start of his own career. Patton was a man who became famous for his showmanship as a performer who knew how to belt out a tune like a gem.
#6 – Shake It and Break It (But Don’t Let It Fall Mama)
One of the all-time favorites from Charley Patton’s collection of Delta blues music is “Shake It and Break It (But Don’t Let It Fall Mama).” Scores of artists have since recorded their own versions of what became one of Patton’s most beloved numbers. First recorded in 1929, furniture store owner H.C. Spier helped artists like Patton get his foot in the door as a recording artist.
He also ran a music store in the black neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi. As a white man, Spier used his influence to promote African American artists in an effort to wake up the American public to the beauty of Delta blues and ragtime music. “Shake It and Break It” was one of Patton’s biggest hits as a song that was recorded many times over by a long list of musicians, regardless of genre.
#5 – Moon Goin’ Down
For Rory Block and Stefan Grossman, Charley Patton and Son House were major influences that sparked their own path as blues musicians. At the New York Guitar Festival in February 2006, there was a special tribute that was paid to Patton and his fellow Delta bluesmen. “Moon Goin’ Down” was performed by Block and Grossman at the festival.
The song itself was one of many railroad-related tunes that became a major favorite and not strictly as a blues number. This also became a favorite that influenced the upcoming genres of bluegrass, country, and rock. It was recorded in 1930 out of Grafton, Wisconsin, just before Paramount Records folded as a label.
#4 – Down the Dirt Road Blues
“Down the Dirt Road Blues” was suggested to make reference to Charley Patton’s ancestry. In the song, there was mention of the Cherokee, as well as the Black Indians who made an unsuccessful attempt to claim some land in the Indian Territory. In 1907, the Indian Territory became the American state known as Oklahoma. “Down the Dirt Road Blues” was a 1929 recording, among the first while Patton was with the Paramount Records label. This song became a major favorite and often became a reference point when it came to understanding more about Patton and his ancestry.
#3 – Peavine Blues
“Peavine Blues” was a blues number Charley Patton recorded that became a cult classic. When traveling the Mississippi Blues Trail, Highway 446 in Boyle, Mississippi features a historical marker at the Peavine Railroad site. It was part of the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad that ran from this destination to the Dockery Plantation and back. The cultural and historical significance of this song influenced a common theme of blues-style music as the railroad was seen as a metaphorical means of escape from a less-than-ideal world.
#2 – High Water Everywhere
Recorded in 1929, “High Water Everywhere” made direct reference to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. It covered how badly the African American community was treated as residents of the Mississippi Delta. This was an open and honest Charley Patton that also saw him at his best as a blues musician.
The significance of this song lyrically painted a vivid picture of what life was like during a time when the flooding waters of the Mississippi didn’t seem quite as bad as the mistreatment some of the survivors received from their neighbors. “High Water Everywhere” was believed to tell the tale of Greenville, Mississippi. It was at this location the black community was not allowed to leave despite the waters rising to dangerous levels.
The landowners at the time considered them as property and were not allowed to come and go as they please, even if it meant saving their own lives. The rapid guitar play, combined with Patton’s vocals, added enough drama needed to shed light on the horror of what happened. The events that took place during this time are what spurred several members of the black community to migrate north into cities like Chicago, New York, and St. Louis. In 2001, an inspired Bob Dylan paid tribute to “High Water Everywhere” with “High Water (For Charley Patton).”
#1 – Pony Blues
Recorded in 1929, “Pony blues” became Charley Patton’s signature song. It was considered by the National Recording Preservation Board in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress as a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant recording in 2006.
This was one of the first songs Patton ever wrote and recorded. Paramount Records gave Patton his first recording session on June 14, 1929. In 1934, he recorded another rendition of the song as “Stone Pony Blues.” Since then, this blues favorite has been covered by a series of recording artists, including Howlin’ Wolf. Charley Patton taught Howlin’ Wolf how to play his style of blues music, which included teaching him “Pony Blues.”
In turn, Howlin’ Wolf taught a white kid in the 1960s, John Hammond, how to play this iconic song. It was Hammond who heartfully performed this song at the New York Guitar Festival that was held at the Merkin Concert Hall in February 2006. He also let out the Howlin’ Wolf-style full moon howl that made him so popular when he covered Patton’s all-time classic.
Feature Photo: English: Photo published by Paramount Records and the F. W. Boerner Company. Photographer uncredited and unknown., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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