Charley Patton, known as Father of the Delta Blues, was born near Bolton in southern Mississippi in 1891. Charley and his family relocated to the delta around 1900 to the area around Dockery Farms in Bolivar County. Although his family worked on the farm, Charley never did much of that type of labor. He focused on playing the blues. He lived a hard drinking and rough type of life.
Patton was a small man in stature standing at about five feet , five inches tall weighing only 135 pounds, but his music made him much larger. He had a wild guitar style playing behind his head sometimes with rhythms like nobody had heard before. His songs often reflected what was happening in the Mississippi Delta. One of his most famous songs was titled “High Water Everywhere” which described the 1927 flood.
Traveling around the delta and the surrounding states, he married a number of different women and was known for his manly ways. In 1929 he moved to Lula where he played with musicians like Willie Brown and Son House. Paramount Records, which had been founded in 1917, recorded over forty songs with Patton and his fellow musicians. While living in Lula, Charley Patton recorded “Dry Well Blues” about a drought that had hit Coahoma County.
In 1930 Charley Patton and Bertha Lee Pate moved in together. They were both musicians and had met at Lula. She was soon referred to as his wife and they would stay together for the rest of his life. About 1932 the couple moved south of Holly Ridge in Sunflower County. Bertha worked as a cook and Charley continued his music career. T.C. Bailey described this time in their life as he would drive them to these juke joints:
“We used to run around together. That was in the thirties. I had a car and Charley didn’t. He played out in the country at them houses. Different ones got juke joints, get him to play for ’em. He played for me sometimes. I have run a juke when I was living there in the country too. I carried him to different places. Sometimes he played twice in one night. He played by himself. We drank that corn whiskey. He wouldn’t get drunk. He’d get high so he could play good. He’d just sit down n one place where he could watch his wife. He didn’t want you to talk to his wife. She could dance. She could sing too. She’d just sing behind him. He’d fight and shoot too. He carried a gun. He got in fights near about everywhere he played.”
After one particular violent night in 1934 between the couple of Bertha Lee and Charley, they were locked up in the Belzoni, Mississippi jail. W.R. Callaway, from Vocalion Records, bailed the pair out and carried them to New York for one last recording session. He would die about three months later. Charley Patton passed away on April 24, 1934 of hearth failure. He is buried at Holly Ridge in Sunflower County, Mississippi.
Charley Patton has two markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail. One is located at Bolton and the other is located at Holly Ridge. He is also mentioned on the “Livin at Lula” maker.
Paramount Records – The Mississippi Blues Trail.
Charley Patton | Dockery Farms Foundation
Charley Patton’s Grave – The Mississippi Blues Trail
Livin’ at Lula – The Mississippi Blues Trail
Biography and Music of Charley Patton, Blues Musician from Mississippi
Charley Patton | Biography, Songs, & Facts| Britanica
Sacre, Robert. Charley Patton: Voice of the Mississippi Delta. 2018
Komara, Edward M. Chasin’ that Devil Music: Searching for the Blues. 1998.