Charley Patton, known as the father of the delta blues, was the first to popularize and record songs in this style.
Born near Bolton in southern Mississippi in 1891, Charley and his family relocated to Dockery Farms around 1900, looking for more opportunity and a better life. The northern delta, wilder and less established, was shorter on labor than the southern half of the state, and as a result black workers were given fairer treatment than in the south. At Dockery, Charley’s parents worked hard and achieved some success, with his father and brother-in-law eventually reaching foreman positions on the farm.
Charley himself never worked much on the farm, but he lived on and around the farm throughout the rest of his life, playing the blues. He lived a hard-drinking rough and tumble life, marrying several times, and having many affairs over his short 40 year life span. He was a popular entertainer, and played many events and parties, for both whites and blacks.
Bessie Turner, Patton’s niece, described how Charley would entertain at the picnics given by Will Dockery for his renters and workers:
He [Dockery] liked for all his folks to be nice, lively, have parties. He’d give free picnics and things like that and got Uncle Charley to play. Had a platform built for them to dance on the Fourth of July. The dance started about one o’clock and ended up the next morning. Start on the Fourth and end up on the fifth, dancing out there, right at that grove.… That’s where Uncle Charley have made many a tune.… That’s where the parties used to be. All through the year they have parties. Mr. Dockery put on big barbecues, and Uncle Charley used to play. All his Negroes would be there. Homer Lewis, and Willie Brown, Mr. Henry Sloan, Mr. Bonds. They had a group, some blowing a little old horn (i. e., kazoo) and Uncle Charley picking guitar and one playing the accordion, Willie Brown and him picking guitar. Mr. Homer Lewis, he played the accordion.
Charley recorded 57 songs between 1929 and 1934, which sold well and have left a legacy that has influenced musicians from Bob Dylan to Led Zeppelin to the White Stripes. His most famous songs include Pony Blues, A Spoonful Blues and High Water Everywhere, the latter inspired by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.
He died in 1934 of heart failure.