Charley Patton: The Call of The Wild

[caption id="attachment_149405" align="alignnone" width="600"] Illustration by Courtney Spencer[/caption] This article appears in the May/June 2015 “Blues Issue,” which hits newsstands May 5. It’s pretty commonplace to think of Robert Johnson as “The King of the Delta Blues,” if not simply as the source from which all blues derive. But we often ignore the truth when the legend becomes more compelling. I mean, how can you not be sucked into a story in which a musician seemingly struck a deal with the devil to achieve greatness? But what if there was someone born before Johnson who sang with the hair-raising knowledge that he, too, was hellbound? It’s no myth. Johnson had a mentor. And his name was Charley Patton. They refer to Johnson as “King of the Delta Blues,” but no less a blues scholar than the late Robert Palmer called Patton the “father” of that self-same music. Even atheists might find this team positively religious when it comes to the origins of the blues. You’ve got your Father and Son right there. The Holy Ghost? Maybe it was a guy named Henry Sloan, whom Patton learned from circa 1900. Sloan, too, played what was just beginning to be called the…

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