Category Archives: Roots of rock

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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Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight

R & B #1 song
October 5, 1948

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin' Tonight

Roots of Rock

Before there was Rock ‘n’ Roll, there was Rhythm & Blues. We don’t call rock R & R (that’s something else), but we do call the latter R & B and when Wynonie Harris sang R & B, it was rock and roll.

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight

Wynonie Harris

Most seem to agree that Wynonie Harris was born in Omaha, NE. What the actual date and year were is not as definite. On August 24, 1915? 1920?  Not that important I suppose.

Harris initially found success in his hometown at Jim Bell’s Harlem,club. He danced. Played drums. Sang.

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight

Mr Blues

In 1940 he moved to Los Angeles and continued to find success as a live performer. In 1944, while in Chicago, bandleader Lucky Millinder hired him as his band’s new singer.

Harris’s nickname was Mr Blues, not because of soulful singing as his lyrics which some thought smutty and indecent. (“I like my baby’s puddin’ I like it best of all…She promised she wouldn’t give no one her puddin’ but me.”)

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight

Lucky Millinder

Harris first appeared on stage with Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra on April 7, 1944. One of the songs he sang was “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well.”   He recorded that song with Millinder in May though Decca did not release it until April 1945 because of the war shortage of the shellac used to press records.

The song was a big hit with both black and white audiences, a rare thing in the 1940s.

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight

Goin’ solo

Harris quit the orchestra (money issues) and moved back to Los Angeles. Over the years he signed with various labels, but Harris continued to sing powerful songs that, unless one looks at the songs’ dates, are surely great rock songs.

One of his biggest hits was Good Rockin’ Tonight written by Roy Brown. Brown offered the song to Harris who refused it. Brown recorded it himself and had a hit with it.

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight

Rockin’?

Then Harris recorded it in his style which gave the great song even greater energy. In this case, the rockin’ referred to is music, not sex as the term rock and roll is a euphemism for.

In 1954 Sam Phillip’s Sun Records released the 19-year-old Elvis Presley’s cover of the song. It was Presley’s second release. It was not a hit for him.

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight

Covers

Many others have covered the song. Carl Perkins, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Ricky Nelson among them, but did you know that the Doors, minus Jim Morrison, covered it?

Wikipedia link about Good Rockin’ Tonight

Wynonie Harris Good Rockin Tonight
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Electra Records Jac Holzman

Electra Records Jac Holzman

Born September 15, 1931
Elektra Records Jac Holzman
Jac in younger days.

Follow the Music

Stefano Santucci, a childhood conker buddy and fellow vinyl collector, recommended that I read Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Electra Records In The Great Years of American Pop Culture by Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws.

He said that it was “…the cat’s pajamas. Highly recommend how this guy Jac Holzman discovered and produced some of the most amazing bands and songwriters, but also found their proper producer and engineers to get their best stuff out…not only the proper sound, but also   elected the album art and logos.”

Among Boomers, a common complaint regarding today’s recordings is the size of liner notes while holding a CD or, worse, no liner notes with a download.

Album covers we could read, but today’s font sizes (did anyone even know what the word “font” meant in the 60s?) (if one actually purchases a “hard” copy of a recording and not simply downloads it) are lilliputian.

Electra Records Jac Holzman

Electra Records Jac Holzman

Jac Holzman

When I did read those covers, I always saw the name Jac Holzman on the back of my Elektra Records and gradually realized that Elektra Records was a company that could be depended upon to produce great music.

Holzman founded Elektra Records on October 10 1950 out of his St John’s College (Maryland) dorm room. (Sounds like Crawdaddy! founder Paul Williams, eh?)

Holzman had $300 bar mitzvah money, but needed $300 more.College friend and Navy vet Paul Rickholt put in his veterans bonus. To make the Elektra logo, Holzman turned two Ms on their side for the Es and used a K instead of a C. Voila.

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Holzman was before Sam Phillips’s Memphis Studio.

Before Elvis.

Before Rocket 88. 

Before the Beatles were teenagers.

Elektra’s first album was an album of German art poems set to music by John Gruen and sung by Georgiana Bannister. Holzman left St John’s College and stepped into Greenwich Village’s nascent folk scene. He recorded Josh White (folk blues), Jean Ritchie (Appalachian folk) and Theodore Bikel (Israeli folk).

He recorded Judy Collins and Tom Paxton.

Record companies need income and Jac Holzman was creative. He could support the fledgling folk artist because he also released a series of albums aimed at branches of the military and various other groups’ interests and hobbies.

Electra Records Jac Holzman

Sound effects

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame site: Another of Holzman’s inspirations was a series of sound effects records. The first volume was released in 1960. Numbering 13 in total, they sold well and were extremely popular with the movie industry and radio programmers. Never had such a gallery of sounds and noises, including a definitive car crash, been so painstakingly recorded. Moreover, they were highly profitable because there were no performers’ royalties involved.

Another way he subsidized his Elektra label was by creating Nonesuch records in 1963. He made classical music available by licensing titles from overseas labels and marketing the records at a lower price than American labels selling the same titles.

As the music of the 60’s evolved, so did Elektra. Acoustic folk continued to be part of the label, but electricity too.

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

The Incredible String Band. David Ackles,  Carly Simon. Harry Chapin. Bread. Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Love. The Doors. Clear Light. The MC5. The Stooges. Queen.

Electra Records Jac Holzman

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

John Densmore spoke at Jac Holzman’s March 14, 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Densmore said, “Without Jac Holzman, Jim Morrison’s lyrics would not be on the tip of the world’s tongue.”

Elektra Records Jac Holzman

Music continues to benefit from Holzman. Nowadays he is now Senior Technology Adviser to Warner Music Group as “a wide-ranging technology ‘scout’, exploring new digital developments and identifying possible partners.”

References: Rock and roll Hall of Fame bio >>> R & R H o F Derek Sivers site >>> Sivers

Electra Records Jac Holzman
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