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Morning Song – Down The Dirt Road Blues

August 10, 2017

(One in a series of posts inspired by Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World.)

Historian Gary B. Nash’s landmark 1974 book, Red, White & Black: The Peoples Of Early North America, made the then-radical case that the first two centuries of European and African settlement (forced, in the case of the enslaved Africans) along the Atlantic coast of what later became the United States featured powerful cross-currents of social, political, economic and cultural exchange among the peoples from all three continents.

Those cross-currents continue to swirl and mix in the following centuries, too. Take, for example, Charley Patton, the “Father Of The Delta Blues“. Born somewhere around 1891, Patton had living relatives who’d been born into slavery; others who were Caucasian; and at least one grandmother who was a member of the Cherokee nation…which at that time still controlled its own land in “Indian Territory” (or, as it’s known today, the state of Oklahoma).

When, in “Down The Dirt Road Blues”, Patton sings “I been to the Nation, Lord, but I couldn’t stay there“, he’s singing about traveling the 300 miles or so from his home in Sunflower County, Mississippi to the Cherokee Nation lands, being refused recognition as a member of the Nation, and having to head back to Mississippi to make another way for his life.

So he sang and played the blues. Ralph Ellison once wrote, “The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.” That’s about as good a summation of Charley Patton’s life and work as you’ll find.

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