Friday, July 1, 2011

New Blues For You - From the Delta to Chicago

Charley Patton
For many blues fans and musicians, there's a close race over who was actually the King of the Delta Blues.  For most, the choice is Robert Johnson, but for a lot of fans, Charley Patton holds the title.  Certainly at the time (late 20's/early 30's), Patton was the acknowledged king.  He was the closest thing to a celebrity on the blues circuit at that time, playing all sorts of gatherings, parties, juke joints.  His records were heard all over the South.  He was adept at playing blues, popular songs of the time, country and western, and hillbilly.  He was a major influence on many of the artists of that time, including Robert Johnson and Son House and later artists like John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf.

Patton was a master showman back in the day, playing the guitar down on his knees, behind his back, or over his head.  He would also throw the guitar in the air while performing.  He was also a groundbreaking guitarist at that time....and that voice!  Though he was a small man, standing about 5' 5", he had a rough gravelly voice that supposedly could be heard 500 yards away in those pre-amplification days.  Listening to Patton sing on those old Paramount recordings, you will fully realize where Howlin' Wolf picked up his vocal style.

Patton was born in central Mississippi, around Edwards, MS, but his family moved to the Delta when he was a youngster, settling around Ruleville, MS, near Dockery's Plantation, a huge 10,000 acre cotton farm and sawmill, widely considered by many to be the birthplace of the Delta blues due to the number of musicians who came from or spent time there, such as Patton, Robert Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, Howlin' Wolf, Tommy Johnson, and Son House.  Patton died about twenty miles from Dockery in 1934 at age 42, but he left 60 recordings found on those difficult-to-hear Paramount Records.  To many, if he's not the King of the Delta Blues, he's at least the father of them.

Fast-forward some seventy-five years plus into the future and you'll find Reverend Peyton, leader of The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, one of the best of the recent surge of country blues bands that have given the genre a huge shot in the arm over the past few years.  Peyton regards Patton as THE King of the Delta Blues and is willing to come to blows over it.  Peyton feels so strongly about this that he has recorded a magnificent tribute to Patton, to be released on July 19 on SideOneDummy Records, called Peyton on Patton

It's a spare, but powerful recording, mostly featuring Reverend Peyton solo with his rough-hewn vocals and slashing guitar, though his wife, Washboard Breezy, adds washboard percussion on a couple of tracks and backing vocals on one track, "Elder Greene Blues," and drummer Aaron "Cuz" Persinger provides interesting percussion backing......drumming with his hands on an old tobacco barrel.

Reverend Peyton in front of Dockery Farms (photo by Bill Steber)

Peyton recreates eleven of Patton's most beloved songs on Peyton on Patton, including a high-octane 90 mph version of "A Spoonful Blues," "Mississippi Boweavil Blues," "Tom Rushen Blues," "Green River Blues," and "Shake It and Break It."  He also delves into Patton's gospel sides,  including "Jesus Is A Dying-Bed Maker," "Prayer of Death, Part 1," and "You're Gonna Need Someone (When You Come To Die)." 

Central to the disc are three decidedly different versions of the classic "Some of These Days I'll Be Gone," first on conventional acoustic guitar, a second "hopped-up" version on banjo, and a third version featuring some lovely slide guitar.

Peyton's masterful guitar work is the highlight of this disc.  His goal in making this recording was to stay as true to the original music as possible.  He did the entire recording in one day, using one microphone...the same way Patton had done it over eighty years earlier. 

Over eighty years after his first recordings, Charley Patton's music is still influencing musicians.  Not many artists can claim that sort of staying power, but there's still much to be heard in those scratchy old recordings.

Peyton on Patton is highly recommended listening.  When you get down to it, it's nothing more than Reverend Peyton paying tribute to one of his guitar heroes, but each note played and sung shows that was a labor of love for the good that we are fortunate enough to hear for ourselves..

Another tribute disc that's just out is the two-disc set, Chicago Blues:  A Living History - The (R)evolution Continues.  This set is a sequel to the 2009 double-disc set, Chicago Blues:  A Living History.  Like its predecessor, the new disc provides neophytes with an introduction to this great music, and it offers longtime fans a fresh take on some familiar Chicago classics. 

Many of the same artists return on the new disc - Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell, Carlos Johnson, Billy Flynn, Carlos Johnson, Johnny Iguana, and Felton Crews, but there are some additional guest stars this time around.  Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, Zora Young, James Cotton, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Mike Avery all make guest appearances.

The songs presented represent Chicago Blues from the early 40's (Lonnie Johnson's "He's A Jelly Roll Baker," courtesy of Arnold) to the late 90's (Ronnie Baker Brooks doing his own "Make These Blues Survive").  Some of the tunes will be familiar (Jimmy Rogers' "Chicago Bound," by Primer, Magic Sam's "Easy Baby," from Sam's cousin Mike Avery, Elmore James' "Yonder Wall," via Junior Wells from Billy Branch (see below), but there are some outstanding tunes here that may be unfamiliar to most blues fans, such as Floyd Jones' "Stockyard Blues" (by Lurrie Bell), Tampa Red's "I'll Be Up Again Someday (by Arnold), and a great cover of Robert Lockwood Jr.'s "My Daily Wish, featuring Arnold, with guitarist Flynn and piano man Iguana.

The guest stars also shine on their tunes.  Buddy Guy reprises his hit, "First Time I Met The Blues," as only he can.  Magic Slim is reunited with longtime bandmate Primer on Chuck Willis' "Keep A-Drivin'."  James Cotton raises the roof on "Rocket 88," with Iguana and guitarists Flynn and Rico McFarland.  There are several heartfelt tributes, with Zora Young pays tribute to her mentor, Sunnyland Slim, on "Be Careful How You Vote," Baker Brooks covering his father Lonnie's "Don't Take Advantage of Me," Carlos Johnson's nod to Otis Rush ("Ain't Enough Comin' In"), and Lurrie Bell honoring his dad, Carey, with "Got To Leave Chi-Town." 

Closing out the disc is a rollicking version of Muddy Waters' "The Blues Had A Baby (and They Named it Rock and Roll)," with the four principals (Branch, Arnold, Bell, and Primer) each taking the mic and ending things in fine fashion.  This is a great sequel, possibly even better than the original, due to the wide range of covers, many rarely heard.  While it would be nice to have some younger Chicago musicians paying tribute to these artists (most of the "honorers" range from late 40' to early 70's), this collection will open the eyes (and ears) of some younger blues fans.

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