Friday, December 11, 2009

*In Folklorist Harry Smith’s House-"Mississippi Boweavil Blues" — The Masked Marvel (1929)

Click on the title to link to a presentation of the song listed in the headline.

The year 2009 has turned into something a year of review of the folk revival of the 1960s. In November I featured a posting of many of the episodes (via “YouTube”) of Pete Seeger’s classic folk television show from the 1960s, “Rainbow Quest”. I propose to do the same here to end out the year with as many of the selections from Harry Smith’s seminal “Anthology Of American Folk Music,” in one place, as I was able to find material for, either lyrics or "YouTube" performances (not necessarily by the original performer). This is down at the roots, for sure.


My exploration of Harry Smith’s Anthology26 “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” by Charley Patton (The Masked Marvel)

Charley Patton’s World

Charley (or Charlie) Patton is considered by many the most important bluesman of all times, the father of the “Delta Blues”, which is a genre that most people see as the “real, deep Blues”. Raised near the famous Dockery Plantation, a big cotton and sawmill plantation and the “mythical” birthplace of the Blues, Patton learned his skills with Henry Sloan, an older Bluesman born in 1870. His powerful guitar playing and vocals influenced all the other musicians around him, including Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Son House and the younger Robert Johnson would learn to play the Blues from them. Patton was very popular in all the South and he was a real showman on stage, making tricks like playing the guitar behind his head or his back, interspreading different vocal comments during his songs. His erratic life, his inclinations toward booze and women and his short life also contributed to make him a “Blues” icon.

Like for Robert Johnson, the label “Delta Blues” is quite limiting the range of their music. The repertoire of Patton (and Johnson) included a broader range of popular music, religious songs and pieces that came from the white tradition and they could includes them along with their “Blues” to please different audiences. The fact is that we see them today as genuine folk musicians rather than “entertainers” is due in part to the romantized and almost mystical way they were described by white Blues lovers and writers. He recorded more than 60 sides during his rather short career, some with other musicians, some with a female vocalist, but a large part of his recordings he plays alone with his guitar. His unique spontaneous style and incredible timing combined with percussive effects on the guitar, vocal eccenticities made some of this sides, the most passionate pieces of music ever recorded.

-Go to this wikipedia page for a more complete biography and a list of his recordings

-Go here to see Robert Crumb’s cartoon biography

-Music writer and musician Elijah Wald, who wrote a very interesting book about Robert Johnson (“Escaping the Delta”), wrote also a superb essay about Patton, where he tries to picture the musician in “context”, escaping the romanced and mythical proses so common about Blues icons.

-Really appropriate to this post i found this article by Robert K.D Peterson: “Charley Patton and his Mississippi Boweavil Blues”

-There are two books dedicated entirely to the life and music of Charley patton:one by guitar player John Fahey and the other by Stephen Calt and Gayle Wardlow.There are both out-of-print but you can maybe find them by doing a research on the net.

-You can have the Fahey book by buying the box-set he issued on his Revenant label along with 7 cds and a booklet. It’s pricey but a must-have for the real fan.

-Those with a low budget can nevertheless have Patton’s complete recordings with this JSP box-set or with excellent compilations issued by Yazoo records

-From my part, i offer you the 14 sides Patton recorded for his first session in Richmond in 1929:

Pony Blues
A Spoonful Blues
Down The Dirt Road Blues
Prayer Of Death, Pt. 1
Prayer Of Death, Pt. 1
Screamin’ & Hollerin’ The Blues
Banty Rooster Blues
Tom Rushen Blues
It Won’t Be Long
Shake It & Break It (But Don’t Let It Fall Mama)
Pea Vine Blues
Mississippi Boweavil Blues
Lord I’m Discouraged
I’m Goin’ Home

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