Blast From the Past: “Patches”

Patches - Clarence CarterIf you are my age, you are most likely very familiar with Clarence Carter‘s hit song “Patches.” It’s a song about a boy growing up on the farm in Alabama (way back in the woods). He is called “Patches” because of all the patches on his clothes. So he’s from a very poor family. One day, his father, who is dying, makes a request of him, “Patches I’m depending on you son—to pull the family through…”

It is a very unique song. It has an ABC structure with the A section spoken. When I was six years old, it sounded kind of like a country tune. Of course it isn’t anything like country. It is Rhythm & Blues through and through. I think it is as distinctive and fresh today as it was 45 years ago:

What I didn’t know is that “Patches” was not written by or for Carter. It was written by the lead singer of Chairmen of the Board, General Johnson, and his songwriting partner Ronald Dunbar. And so Chairmen of the Board first did the song. But it was released as a B-side because the record company thought the talking in the song was too unusual and it wasn’t “hit” material. Of course, that was exactly the reason that the song became a hit for Carter that same year.

Here is the original version of the song by Chairmen of the Board:

That year, Johnson and Dunbar won the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Song. And there is a recent and very interesting story about this. Dunbar lost control of the Grammy trophy at some point. I don’t know if it was lost or stolen or what. But it ended up on the show Pawn Stars. In January of 2011, Dunbar got it back. That’s good news for Dunbar and good news for the world—the more money taken away from the bottom feeding family on Pawn Stars, the better.

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