Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Song: Charley Patton

This week we published two entries from Donald Culross Peattie's Almanac For Moderns that documented the seventeen-year cicada as it emerged from the earth in 1934, in Northern Illinois. A few years earlier, a delta musician sat down to record a song about another agricultural plague.

In 1929, Charley Patton (recording as "The Masked Marvel") entered "Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues" into the American blues canon. While I imagine most folks are already familiar with the legendary, transcendent work of Charley Patton, more information and further links can be found here. Born in 1891, he jolted from the Dockery Plantation in Mississippi to become one of the first celebrities in the era of recorded blues. Like Robert Johnson, his life was tumultous and cut short far too early. 

Here's Stephen Calt writing in the liner notes to the excellent Yazoo records Charley Patton: Founder of the Delta Blues:
Mississippi Bo Weavil was a unique seven bar song that Patton played in 1910, when the bo weavil struck his native Sunflower County. Despite its one chord accompaniment and simple vocal melody consisting of three basic notes, it is an almost inimitable work. Its single line stanzas pair fourteen beat vocal phrases with ten beat bottleneck riffs, usually followed by a measure of tonic chord strumming. The pitch (C3) Patton sounded with a bottleneck immediately after the vocal phrase was one of his favorite devices: he sounds similar high pitches in "A Spoonful Blues" and "When Your Way Gets Dark."