Randomness + Charley Patton

A page from Charlie Whitman’s daily journal, right after he started at UT in the fall of 1961.

A page from Charlie Whitman’s daily journal, right after he started at UT in the fall of 1961.

The summer continues on its brutal path here in Austin. Small talk with friends and strangers alike often includes this exchange:

“You making it through the summer OK?”
“Yeah. It’s horrible, but at least it’s not as bad as last summer.”
“That’s a fact. A few degrees really makes a difference.”
“Yeah. There’s a big difference between 100 and 108, 109, etc.”

Proof that our brains were not completely fried last year, or in previous terrible summers here. Why do we live here? This question is never more pertinent than in the months of June, July and August.

I often think of the Tower Shootings on August 1, 1966, during the summer, because heat does strange things to you. I remember how hot it was that day. The heat and the incomprehensible images on TV seared the memory in my mind forever. We lived in Johnson City and we didn’t have air conditioning, so I remember sitting there, watching the massacre unfold, sweating.

But anyway, it’s summer in Texas. Life goes on, oddly enough, like a drunk weaving his crooked path down the alley, teetering, stumbling, but never quite falling down.

I’ve been learning Charlie Patton’s great song “High Water Everywhere.” Charlie was a force of nature, one of the black songsters from Mississippi in the early 1900s who is a blues legend today and who inspired many of the monumental performers of the blues, including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Lonnie Johnson, just to name a few. His style of finger picking, open tuning, percussion (slapping the body of the guitar like a drum, snapping the strings, hitting pinch harmonics, etc.) is still a revelation to behold.

A page from R. Crumb’s brilliant graphic biography of Charlie Patton.

I don’t know this song escaped my attention for all these years, but I’m making up for lost time now. Elijah Wald has written brilliantly about Patton, check it out here. The graphic biography, written by Stephen Calt and Gayle Wardlow, with fine illustrations by R. Crumb King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton is highly recommended, if you’ve got the money to buy a copy. Apparently it’s been out of print for a while and tends to run about $100 or more. Crumb’s home page offers direct links to many other “Crumb Products” including R Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country.

You can hear Charlie’s version of “High Water Everywhere Part I” on this youtube clip.

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