By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Singing in an impenetrable, stentorian moan that could rise to a girlish croon or drop to a muttered croak, Patton forged a succession of songs -- “Pony Blues,” “Down the Dirt Road Blues,” “Banty Rooster Blues,” “Magnolia Blues,” “Green River Blues” -- whose melodies and lyrics became the currency of recorded Delta blues, and of much that followed. He was at his apex when he ripped his material from the oft-harrowing details of his own life. “High Water Everywhere” is his masterpiece, a factually inaccurate but overpowering description, filled with panic, terror and dread, of the drowned Mississippi countryside. (It had a lesser sequel of sorts in “Dry Spell Blues,” an account of the catastrophic drought of 1930.) The consummate rounder, he wrote memorably about his jail time in “Tom Rushen Blues,” a hat-tip to the Bolivar County deputy sheriff (which was remade by Robert Johnson as “From Four Till Late”); in 1934, he reconfigured the tune as “High Sheriff Blues,” which recounted the drunk and disorderly events leading to his signing by Vocalion producer W.R. Calaway, who bailed him out of the Belzoni, Mississippi, slammer.
By the time Patton reached Vocalion, he was played out. His heart ailment had worn him down, and sometime in the early ‘30s he nearly perished after his throat was cut from ear to ear by a jealous husband or (some said) by Bertha Lee, the last of his many “wives.” On his ’34 recordings solo and with Lee, he‘s a wasted wraith with one foot in the grave. One of his last recordings was a gospel tune: “Oh Death.”
To present a comprehensive view of Patton’s creative milieu, Screamin‘ and Hollerin’ the Blues piles on context to sometimes distracting lengths: Sides by Buddy Boy Hawkins, Edith North Johnson and the Delta Big Four are included, though Patton‘s presence on these tracks is minimal or nonexistent. Other material is more useful, like the dazzling June 1930 material cut by Willie Brown, Son House and pianist Louise Johnson at a Paramount session shared with Patton, and a CD of related songs by artists considered in Patton’s “orbit,” ranging from Tommy Johnson and Rube Lacy to Howlin‘ Wolf and “Pops” Staples. The latter two musicians are heard, along with scout Speir and Patton colleague Booker Miller, on a full disc’s worth of interviews.
The Revenant set, elegantly housed in an embossed slipcase and designed to resemble an album of 78 rpm discs, is so opulent it verges on the pornographic. Blues freaks will slaver over the full-length reprint of Fahey‘s long-out-of-print book, the color reproductions of 78 labels, and the way the CDs are mounted on full-size cardboard reproductions of 10-inch shellac discs.
It’s all meant to be monumental. In his valedictory essay, Fahey writes, “Patton‘s recordings have meant so much to me for so long it is almost as if he were a constant companion to me.” By creating what amounts to a temple for Charley Patton, Fahey sought to reassert the full import of his soul mate’s accomplishments. This astonishing set doesn‘t just bring home the drama and historical resonance of Patton’s legacy, it‘s an impressive headstone for Patton’s acolyte and student as well.