Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Okay, I found the quote that I was thinking of when I posted in “whatcha’ listening to. “It’s from the book “Early Downhome Blues” by Jeff Todd Titon. I haven’t read the book (yet). I found the quote on the Weenie Campbell forum.
When I asked Son House to listen to a particular line from a song by Charley Patton that I could not make out, House laughed.  He said "You could sit at Charley's feet and not understand a word he sang."
To me that’s not a bad thing. In the 1980s, I was a big fan of R.E.M. and one of the things that I used to like about them was that you couldn’t understand their lyrics. I remember in college having long discussions about what Michael Stipe was saying. This was on the early albums, Chronic Town, Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, and Life’s Rich Pageant. You could start to really hear the lyrics around Fables, but they were still hard to understand what he meant. However once you started to clearly hear the lyrics, some of the mystery went out of R.E.M.

R.E.M. - Radio Free Europe

But back to Charlie Patton, as stated, Charlie didn’t enunciate words, and to this day people still don’t know what he said on certain songs. In “Down the Dirt Road”, what does he say?
I’m goin’ away to a world unknown…to Illinois …to where I don’t know… to where I’m known
Charlie Patton - Down the Dirt Road Blues

Here’s a fairly lengthy discussion on Charlie Patton from Weenie Campbell.

I don’t know what he actually says, and to me that’s okay. You can put whatever meaning you like into the song, interpret it however you want. The more time you spend trying to figure out what the lyrics are, the more you get pulled in to the music. Music doesn’t need to be “perfect”, a little noise or mumbled lyrics might be just the thing to grab a listener.  Sort of like how African Mbira (thumb piano) players put little pieces of metal or bottle caps on their instruments to add a buzz to their playing. Music that is too “polished” sometimes just doesn’t sound right to me. It lacks that human element.  I’d much rather listen to Bob Dylan’s voice or Charlie Patton’s hard to decipher lyrics than any perfectly enunciated auto-tuned voice out there today.
Down the dirt road isn’t the only example of Charlie’s diction, or lack thereof. One of my favorite songs of his, “Some of these Days”, which was most likely loosely based on the early jazz song “Some of these Days” made famous by Sophie Tucker, it sounds like he’s saying “Lum of these days”, or sometimes “Yum of these days” and for me, that makes the song.

Charlie Patton - Some of these days

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