Charley Patton is generally considered the oldest Delta blues musician with his work surviving in over 50 recordings.
Born some time between 1885 and 1891 he probably was playing around his country from the first decade of the 20th century until his death in 1934. Son House knew him and played with him but was at least a decade younger, maybe more. The general opinion is that Patton was an irresponsible jokester who improvised most of his songs on demand not really investing any thought or effort into their construction. Often the lyrics are nonsensical or erratic to the point of appearing to be thrown together with no organization. The other view is that he was far more sophisticated and was using complicated metaphorical language to express deeply felt emotional information. He was also unique in that he documented historical events and persons, especially white authority figures, in sometimes striking language. Compared to Robert Johnson, though, Patton’s songs are much cruder. But that is not a defect, just a difference of style, and many people consider Patton the superior artist. One thing is for certain, Patton was much more well known and popular than Johnson during their respective lifetimes.
What everyone also agrees on is that he was a exciting and compelling performer, doing things with a guitar that we thought were invented by much later musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, i.e. playing with his teeth and playing the guitar behind his back. Considering his small stature all who heard him testify to his having a very loud voice capable of projecting above the din of a juke house with plenty of dancing, shouting, drinking and fighting. Patton merely did what he had to do to capture the attention of a rowdy crowd more interested in partying than listening to a singer other than as the person providing music for dancing. And he was, by all accounts, capable of keeping their attention.
Charley Patton : The Complete Recordings
I bought the Revenant set because it was curated by John Fahey and included an excellent text with annotations for each song as well as transcriptions. The decision by Revenant was to leave the 78s alone and present the recordings with minimal processing. Overall they are in fair-good quality. The set pictured above was marketed as having been remastered boasting “the best sound quality.” Amazon reviewers would seem to confirm this, but the results still rely on the old 78s and in some cases the results are only slightly improved.
Anyone simply wanting a complete collection of Patton’s sessions would be well served with the JSP set.
The Revenant box is very expensive and hard to find at this point, although if found I consider it a mandatory purchase for real blues fans.
Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues by Charley Patton
A 7-CD primer on Mississippi Delta blues with Charley Patton as the central, generative figure, this set features 5 CDs with all issued and unissued recordings by Patton and sessionmates Son House, Willie Brown, Louise Johnson, Henry ‘Son’ Sims, Bertha Lee, Delta Big Four, Buddy Boy Hawkins, Edith North Johnson, and even talent scout HC Speir; a 6th CD of artists in Charley’s “orbit” like Ma Rainey, Howlin’ Wolf, Poor Boy Lofton, Kid Bailey, Walter Rhodes, Rube Lacy, Blind Joe Reynolds (newly discovered track!), Tommy Johnson and Pops Staples; and a 7th CD of interviews with Patton associates Staples, Wolf, Speir and Patton protégé Booker Miller. All tracks are fully remastered and pitch-corrected from the best possible sources, resulting in the definitive versions of this material.
Also included are a freestanding reprint of John Fahey’s 1970 Patton book, 128 pages of exhaustive new notes by Fahey and blues scholars David Evans, Dick Spottswood, and Ed Komara, complete lyric transcriptions, full-size reproductions of the 6 original 1929 Paramount ads, a full set of 78 record label stickers from all Charley’s Paramount, Vocalion and Herwin releases, and dozens of other dazzling visuals. All housed in a deluxe ’78 Album’ hardcover book and slipcase.