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The Complete Recordings


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  • Recording information: Gennett Records, Richmond, IN (01/30/1934-02/01/1934); Grafton, WI (01/30/1934-02/01/1934); New York, NY (01/30/1934-02/01/1934); Gennett Records, Richmond, IN (06/14/1929); Grafton, WI (06/14/1929); New York, NY (06/14/1929); Gennett Records, Richmond, IN (11/??/1929-05/28/1930); Grafton, WI (11/??/1929-05/28/1930); New York, NY (11/??/1929-05/28/1930).
  • At the end of just the first disc on this five-CD set, the listener may feel like he/she was in the audio equivalent of a visual "white-out," so powerful are the sounds on that disc. From the opening bars of"Pony Blues," Charley Patton becomes a gigantic musical presence, who gets even bigger as his work goes on; with a guttural, stentorian voice that paves the way for everyone from Louis Armstrong to early Bob Dylan -- but especially for Howlin' Wolf -- he cuts through the poor condition surviving Paramount pressings like a call from the Great Beyond, almost unnaturally powerful and expressive in its smallest gesture. What's more, Patton must have broken more than his share of strings, because his playing also comes through on these sides better than almost any artist that ever recorded for Paramount, even on ruined masters like "Pea Vine Blues." This is all a lot more than a trip through history for the scholar, and some sides are just too close to some classics of the future to ignore -- "Down In The Dirt Road Blues," which could be where Willie Dixon got the idea for "Down In The Bottom," and the notion that Howlin' Wolf was the man to record it; similarly, "Some Summer Day," from the other end of Patton's career, could easily have been the demo for "Sittin' On Top Of The World" -- actually, the geneology of both songs is a lot more complicated than that, but each of these could easily have been a key part of the evolutionary chain for one or the other. And there is a raw, primordial power to Patton's music that not only grabs the listener but leaves them wanting more; that's why this box makes perfect sense, even for the casual blues listener -- the man never recorded a second-rate side or one that didn't offer at least a few of the attributes that made his best work so powerful. On a cautionary note, however, the producers have actually been a bit misleading by presenting this set as 92 sides by Charley Patton -- there are actually 63 sides by Patton, and the rest, appended to each disc, are recordings by other artists and are believed to have featured Patton, playing and singing or just playing, and people who were featured on Patton's sides; the latter two groups include Son House, Louise Johnson, Henry "Son" Sims, and Willie Brown, with the Big Delta Four filling out the last disc. And these sides offer some fascinating sounds, including killer tracks by Son House in his prime, and oddities like Brown's "Future Blues," which lifts part of its content from Jimmie Rodgers' repertory. The audio is remarkably consistent and, in fact, the whole set is so rewarding, that it raises an interesting notion -- might JSP or another enterprising label consider doing a series of Paramount Records boxes, assembling the surviving sides, blues, gospel, or whatever, in chronological order, as Bear Family did with Sun Records a few years back? ~ Bruce Eder
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