“Wanna fight about it”, says Charlie Patton in the video below. Charlie’s singing his 1929 track, A Spoonful Blues. While he sounds as rough and tough as old boots, in reality Charlie Patton was a slight little guy, about the size of a jockey, albeit a jockey with a mighty voice.
Now, many call Charlie Patton the Father of Delta Blues, which is fair enough. Charlie was one of the very first to put Delta Blues down on record (in his first session in 1929). But I’d like to put forward another candidate, for your consideration: the shadowy figure said to have taught Charlie Patton.
He was a singer-guitarist called Henry Sloan, born in Mississippi, way back in 1870 and undoubtedly the earliest delta blues player we know of. While no photographs or recordings of Henry exist, he not only taught Charlie much of what he knew about the blues and performing, contemporaries like Son House are on record saying Henry Sloan actually wrote Charlie Patton songs like Pony Blues.
And since Charlie Patton was one of the first blues showmen we know of, Henry Sloan obviously did one fine job. Charlie would play his guitar behind his back, lying on his back, down on his knees. He’d ride it like a horse, throw it up in the air and catch it.
The great musicologist Robert Palmer once said Charlie Patton was 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”. No doubt this reflected Charlie’s black, white and Cherokee Native American heritage.
It’s thought Charlie Patton, born in 1891 in a settlement near his tutor Henry Sloan’s hamlet in Mississippi, based A Spoonful Blues on a 1925 recording made four years earlier by Papa Charlie Jackson, “All I want Is A Spoonful”. Jackson was, by my calculations, the fourth bluesman to record after Sylvester Weaver, Reese Dupree and Ed Andrews. (You’ll find them all in America’s Gift.)
Thought to be from New Orleans, Papa Charlie Jackson was one of the first musicians known to play the raunchy comic blues known as hokum. And just as Charlie Jackson’s All I want Is A Spoonful influenced Charlie Patton’s A Spoonful Blues, so Charlie Patton’s A Spoonful Blues influenced Willie Dixon when he wrote his version of Spoonful in 1960.
The great Etta James had a minor pop hit with Spoonful reaching 78 in the Billboard pop singles chart in 1960 and number 12 in the R&B chart in 1961. I tried to put Etta’s Spoonful in my YouTube clip but it made the thing too big to upload. But you can have a listen to Etta’s excellent version here below.
The great Howlin’ Wolf also recorded Spoonful around 1964 and was said to have regularly performed the song with a large cooking spoon in front of his crotch. Wolf was picking up on that other blues meaning for spoonful, the average male ejaculation, all 10cc’s worth. Which is where the band 10cc got their name, as did The Lovin’ Spoonful.
And so, to the birth of heavy metal in 1966, although it wasn’t called heavy metal back then. I was a music writer on a newspaper back in 1968 and well remember such music being called progressive music, or just rock. It certainly wasn’t the prog rock people who weren’t there have labelled a certain sound that came along later. In their day, Cream were progressive rock and, while I call them an English band in the film, what I mean is that they were formed in England. Eric and Ginger, of course, were from London and environs. Jack Bruce, as most will know, was Scottish.
Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath – they all came along two or three years later. In fact, Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin to fill the gap in the market that opened up when Cream disbanded in 1968 after conquering America being one of the first British bands to take American blues back to white America, after the Stones, Animals, Yardbirds and Kinks.