Charlie Patton

I grew up just outside of Newton a town in Northwest New Jersey. While not being the largest town around(I believe Newton city limits are a couple square miles) Newton is the county seat for Sussex county, where it resides. Back in the day Newton was a pretty bustling place. From what I understand shoe manufacturing was it’s biggest output but today things aren’t quite on the same scale and Newton is more of a suburb housing commuters then the self contained industrial workhorse that it was back in the 30′s. Anyway, of all the companies that exist in Newton one of the more interesting ones has got to be Shanachie/Yazoo Records. I always knew were it was in town, over near a septic treatment plant, but didn’t know much about their wares. That all changed when a friend of mine got a job there when we were juniors in high school. At the time I was a getting into jazz, nothing crazy just the big names like Louis Armstrong. Knowing this my buddy amassed a slew of returned/flawed cd’s for me that were to be thrown out, proly about forty in all. I was initially pretty stoked when he gave me the stash but I quickly discovered that these were not jazz cd’s, they were blues cd’s, hardcore old time blues. Like a guy playing alone on a porch crying to his dog about losing his leg in a knife fight for the love his life. It was a bit much for my young ears but I knew the recordings had merit so I put them in a safe place until about ten years later when I picked them up again. Upon going through the recordings with a few more years under my belt I found I could appreciate them and one particular artist that stood about was Charlie Patton.This is the only known picture of Charlie Patton.

The term “Delta blues” refers to a very early strain of blues that originated on the Mississippi Delta. The Mississippi Delta was a poor rural area rich with farming. As you may know many of the poorest areas of the United States gave birth our folk music traditions. My guess is because they simply couldn’t afford to buy recordings/players and didn’t have the time nor means to travel to see others perform. If they wanted steady musical entertainment they had to provide it themselves and they were the better for it. Of the blues names to come from that region Charlie Patton was one of the biggest. Probably because he managed to record at least a few dozen songs between 1929 and 1934. It really is surprising how many songs Charlie managed to put to vinyl in those 5 years. Charlie’s blues was raw, one man, one guitar, a thick gritty voice and lyrics written straight for the poverty ridden peoples of the Mississippi Delta. You’d think music in this rough of a form wouldn’t have gotten much attention from the record labels and it probably wouldn’t have but for a wily record label exec that realized this music would be marketable to the black populace. He started a trend that had record label folks heading down south hunting down blues musicians to record. Typically they recorded acts at their local venues but in a few cases they invited the acts to their label owned recording studios up north. Charlie Patton was one of those acts. All in all the monetary driven record labels and folk music historians like John Avery Lomax manged to record artists that simply would have faded away never to be heard from again. It’s because of their efforts that we now have a catalog rich with our nation’s musical history to look back on. So check out Charlie Patton and get your blues on.

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