I have a great love of the music that is generally referred to Mississippi delta blues in the first couple of decades of the 20th century. But it is something of a distortion to call it that. There certainly was a lot of great music that came out of there. But there was very similar music that came out of Louisiana and Texas and even as far east as Georgia. And the people who played it moved around a lot to support themselves.
I had wanted to focus the women of that time and place. But there isn’t much to speak of in that regard. Everyone knows Bessie Smith, of course. But she didn’t perform that kind of music. She was more like Billie Holiday, although she’s not even of the same time period. So I’m stuck with just two women: Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley and maybe Bertha Lee Pate. And even they barely make the cut in terms of time. I’m not even going to make it to Robert Johnson.
Let’s start the week with Charlie Patton who, as far as I can tell, was the closest thing that the Mississippi delta had to a star. My main interest in delta blues is the combination of the voice and the guitar. That’s why the slide guitar was so often critical. Patton was a master of it apparently at the very birth of the technique. I haven’t noticed anyone doing it better than he does on “Spoonful Blues.” I love Leo Kottke, but I’m sure he would agree that he doesn’t do a thing that Charlie Patton didn’t do a century earlier. As you will hear, Kottke isn’t alone. Just wait until we do Sun House tomorrow.