Lovingly referred to as “The Father of Delta Blues,” Charley Patton is a musical legend. However, as influential as blues aficionados consider him today, he lived a relatively quiet life. In less than half a century, he defined the sub-genre Mississippi blues from his rural home in the Mississippi Delta. If that is not legendary, who knows what actually falls into that definition.
Just as much of a mystery as how he created his prolific blues sounds is when and where Patton was born. It has been claimed he was born anywhere from 1881 to 1891, but there is no official documentation. Experts even disagree on how to spell Patton’s first name, citing he often spelled his name “Charlie” in written documents despite “Charley” being present on his death certificate.
As a direct descendant of American slaves, much about his familial ancestry is also unknown. Around 1897 he moved with the rest of the Patton family to Ruleville, Mississippi where most of his musical influences derived. Taking inspiration from the local musicians, Patton created his own sound to compliment his charismatic stage presence. Although he lived most of his life as a private musician, he had many proteges including Muddy Waters, who is now referenced as the “Father of the Modern Chicago Blues” and Son House, who iconicized guitar slides. He only began to record his own work in 1929.
Four records later, Patton died quietly at home in Holly Ridge, Mississippi in 1934. He left behind his common-law wife Bertha Lee and his short recording career.
Patton inspired many blues artists including NiaSounds’ Terry Robb, who cites him as an inspiration for the Mississippi blues tracks on his newest album Cool on the Bloom.
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