Category Archives: Cinema

Bluesman Charlie Patton

Bluesman Charlie Patton

Bluesman Charlie Patton

Rattlesnake Blues by Charlie Patton

Bluesman Charlie Patton

It is a too often an embarrassing  occurrence with me that I “discover” something  important that has sat in front of me for decades.


A recent morning while listening to the radio, the DJ referred to a movie on Amazon called “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.”  I have Amazon. I watched the movie that day.


Astounding.


Bluesman Charlie Patton

Blurred origins


Trying to pin down who the originator of this or that musical genre  often leads to a lively discussion.  Who gets credit for American blues? And what were their influences?


Great music is filled with emotion and we humans–filled with emotion–have always had music. How it sounds is influenced by the place we live, the time we are a part of, the instruments around us, and other factors.


We humans also like to keep things simple and as a result we too often pigeon-hole a musician because their fame stemmed from just one aspect of their art.


Charlie (or Charley) Patton was much more than just a blues singer, or more specifically, a Delta Blues singer.

Bluesman Charlie Patton

Delta Blues


In the movie, John Troutman, American Music Historian, says, “…blues buffs, blues scholars, although they can’t really agree on anything,  if they were forced into a room when they had to identify…the most important singularly important blues guitarist, singer, songwriter, the whole package, the greatest one there ever was in the early 20th century…they’d probably say Charlie Patton.”


At his site, Elijah Wald explains, “Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and religious music, ragtime comedy like “Shake It and Break It,” ballads like “Frankie and Albert,” older slide guitar standards like “Bo Weavil” and “Spoonful,” and a couple of unclassifiable pieces that seem to be his reimaginings of Tin Pan Alley pop numbers, “Some of These Days” and “Running Wild.”


Bluesman Charlie Patton

Patton’s background


Charlie Patton was born in April 1890 or maybe 1891 or maybe 1895.  His parents were Bill and Annie Patton.


While certainly an African-American, it is likely that he had other ancestry, including American Indian. Howlin’ Wolf was a student of Patton’s. Wolf said, “Charlie Patton was an Indian. And he was the baddest motherfucker in the world.:


Most agree today, Patton not only had American Indian ancestry, but that Patton’s music reflects that cultural influence.

Keep in mind, that Native Americans sometimes chose to pass as African Americans because they thought that the dominant white American society treated Blacks better than Natives!


Bluesman Charlie Patton

Dockery Plantation

Bluesman Charlie Patton


In 1897, Patton’s family moved to the Dockery Plantation  near Ruleville, Mississippi.  Will Dockery had started the farm in 1895. Because of its location, there was a lack of local labor available and Dockery encouraged all to work and paid a bit better and more reliably.


As a result, a mixture of backgrounds worked his sawmill and fields. Patton was in the middle of this and his musical abilities were steeped in these backgrounds. In his Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads, the late Robert Palmer described Patton as a “jack-of all-trades bluesman”, who played “deep blues, white hillbilly songs, nineteenth-century ballads, and other varieties of black and white country dance music with equal facility.”


Bluesman Charlie Patton

Legacy

Bluesman Charlie Patton


Charlie Patton was only 43 when he died on April 28, 1934, but his influence on the Delta Blues which gave  birth to Chicago electric blues and so on and so forth until we white Baby Boomers thought the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Cream, John Mayall, and others were playing something original but were simply re-interpreting our own music which was the descendant of American Indian, African, and other musics.


Bluesman Charlie Patton
Bluesman Charlie Patton

John Fahey


Master guitarist and blues fan, John Fahey, wrote a great book about Patton simply, Charley Patton. Here is a link for the entire book.


Bluesman Charlie Patton

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Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Byrds, “Ballad of Easy Rider” (Roger McGuinn)
The river flows, it flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes that’s where I want to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town
All he wanted was to be free
And that’s the way it turned out to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town
Flow river flow, past the shady trees
Go river go, go to the sea
Flow to the sea
Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Woodstock away

When Michael Lang and the other Woodstock Ventures partners agreed that they’d do not just an outdoor festival, but an outdoor festival in the country, away from the city, back to Nature, away from the Establishment’s concrete lives, they were tapping into an old American view of the freedom of travel.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Premiered July 14, 1969

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Road stories

We humans love stories and we particularly love stories about journeys. Ever since Homer sat down and recited the tale of Odysseus and his attempt to return home to Penelope, multitudes of tales have followed creating variations on that theme.

The list of those variations is far longer than any little blog like this one could delineate, but Mr Chaucer’s 1478  Canterbury Tales comes to mind as does Jack Kerouac’s 1957 On the Road. And of course Mr Tolkien’s tale of Mr B Baggins of Bag End.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Road films

As soon as Americans started to build roads for motorized vehicles, a plethora of films about people and their travels ensued. The movie of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath novel couldn’t have happened without cars and roads. At least not in the same way.

Visit the Federal Highway Commission’s site for its extensive list of road-related films.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Easy Rider

By the summer of 1969 the cultural revolution was in high gear. Rock festivals dotted the summer calendar. War protests continued. The anti-hero reigned. In 1967, The Graduate had shown us the suburban anti-hero. Easy Rider introduced  us to two western hippie anti-heroes.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Captain America & Wyatt

Peter Fonda played Captain America and Dennis Hopper played Billy. Both dress in a counter-cultural style: Fonda in a leather jacket with an American Flag stenciled on it;  Hopper in leather pants and jacket in imitation of some Native American tribal dress.

They leave California with a gas tank filled with drug money, intending to head east to New Orleans and thence to Florida. Such a trip is the opposite direction of what traditional American history books told of Manifest Destiny and going west to explore, settle, displace, and claim the American dream.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Easy Rider Itinerary

Along the way they visit a commune, experience free love, get arrested, introduce a new friend (“George Hanson” played by Jack Nicholson) to marijuana, get beaten by locals, use LSD, and witness death.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider

Impact

The story reinforced the counterculture’s view of the Establishment’s worthlessness and corruption, and that most Americans saw those who tried to live freely as a threat to their way of life.

The soundtrack’s artists reinforced that view. Included were The Band, The Byrds, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Steppenwolf.

Fonda Hopper Easy Rider
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