Tox Tunes #65: A Spoonful Blues (Charley Patton)

October 21, 2012, 6:51 pm

Charley Patton (?1887-1934), sometimes called “The Father of the Delta Blues”, influenced a wide range of twentieth century American musicians, everyone from Robert Johnson and Son House to Howlin’ Wolf and Bob Dylan.

If the Delta country blues has a convenient source point, it would probably be Charley Patton, its first great star. His hoarse, impassioned singing style, fluid guitar playing and unrelenting beat made him the original king of the Delta blues. All Music Guide – 4th Edition

According to David Evans:

In Patton’s blues, and indeed in his spirituals, ballads and ragtime tunes, may be found fully formed all the essential characteristics of the Deep South blues style — the gruff impassioned voice suggesting the influence of country preaching and gospel singing style . . . the percussive guitar technique, the bending of strings and use of slide style, the driving rhythms and repeated riffs, the traditional lyric formulas and the simple harmonic structures.- The Blackwell Guide to Blues Records

The lyrics of “A Spoonful Blues” remain ambiguous. As pointed out in the Urban Dictionary the word “spoonful” can refer either to sex, or to drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The lyrics don’t resolve the issue.

In his essential book Deep Blues, Robert Palmer details some of the complexity of Patton’s work here:

. . .Patton often used a slider to imitate his vocal timbre, timing, and diction on the guitar. in his recording of a “A Spoonful Blues”, he repeatedly “says” the work “spoonful” with his guitar instead of singing it. The song can be heard as a conversation involving four voices — Patton’s customary singing voice, a womanish falsetto, a lower speaking voice, and the voice of the slider.This is another aspect of Patton’s work that seems strongly linked to African roots — music as call and response, as dialogue.

R. Crumb has retold the life of Charley Patton a in comic book form.


Comments are closed.