Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Screamin’ & Hollerin’ The Blues

for Barry Kaiser & Warren Spottswood

”It was he who got me interested,”
Howlin’ Wolf says of Charley Patton:
”He had been up north somewhere
& cut some records

for some company at that time
& then had come back down there
in the fall of the year,
in the harvest time—

when people’re picking the cotton—
to play for the folks. He’d go from
place to place around there. He was playing
by himself when I heard him—

I was just a kid, & my mama
didn’t allow me out at night. I couldn’t go—
I’d have to slip off. That was the first
I heard of him,

& I liked it,
so from then on
I went to thinking
about music. It was he

who started me off
to playing. He showed me things
on the guitar, because after we got through
picking cotton at night

we’d go & hang around him,
listen to him play. He took a
liking to me, & I asked him
would he learn me, & at night,

after I’d get off work, I’d go &
hang around. He used to play
out on the plantations,
at different one’s homes out there.

”They’d give a supper,
call it a Saturday night hop
or something like that. There weren’t no clubs
like nowadays. Mostly on weekends

they’d have them. He’d play
different spots—he’d be playing
here tonight, & somewhere else
the next night,

& so on. He mostly worked by himself
because his way of playing
was kind of different
from other people’s. It took a good musician

to play behind him
because it was kind of off-beat
& off-time, but it had a good sound

the way he played. I never did
work with him
because he was a traveling man. In the spring
of the year he’d be gone—he never came in

until the fall.
He followed the money.
When spring came, why, he’d generally go
up north someplace, maybe New York

or Chicago. He mentioned
he traveled a lot. He couldn’t make
too much money
in Mississippi

in the spring of the year
because people didn’t have any money
until harvest time. He’d always come back
in the fall.

”He was a real showman,”
the Wolf remembers. ”When he played his guitar,
he would turn it over backwards
& forwards, & throw it around

over his shoulders,
between his legs,
throw it up in the sky! He was more a clown
that he was a musician

it seems. But I never did hear
nobody else
playing like him—playing that bass,
patting on the guitar—nobody mocking &

using his patterns much. There weren’t
any people around
could play that old stuff like Charley.
I felt like I got the most from Charley Patton.”

“Charley was the big man
in the area,” Son House
told Lawrence Cohn. “Everyone
knew Charley Patton. He made

a whole lot of records,
you know, & he was the one
who got me the contract
with Paramount. He was just

a little guy. Maybe 5’6”
& 140 pounds, but he was the
singer aound. He was a fine

guitar player, too. We used to play
the juke joints a lot. Boy,
were they rough! Every Saturday night
someone got cut up

or killed. I’d leave
when the rough stuff started—
even though they never
bothered the musicians,

I wasn’t taking any chances.
The white people
liked our music fine. Anything
fast & jumpy

went over. They didn’t like
to hear any church music,
though. I played in a church once,
on Arkansas. Also in Dr. McFadden’s medicine show

one time. He sold medicine
all over Mississippi,
especially ’round Drew. I used to get
on a small stage

& play just as loud as I could
to attract the attention
of the people. Boy,
we sure sold lots of medicine.”

— Bath, Michigan
March 8, 1985/
New Orleans
March 6, 1998 > August 31, 1999