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Peyton, Patton, The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame & A Vinyl Continuum

Mark Smotroff connects some musical dots…

I love when things come together like this…

Some of you know I’ve been digging down into the catalog of 21st Century bluesman Reverend Peyton and His Big Damn Band. I’ve reviewed several of his albums including his latest at the beginning of April, Dance Songs For Hard Times (click the title to get to the review). He’s been doing some very cool things along the way which audiophiles should be interested in, such as recording his band in a beautiful old church that had been converted into a recording studio (click here for that review).

When I found out recently that he made an acoustic album recorded with one microphone — in Mono — which included a 78 RPM disc of a couple of the songs on that record, I had to track down a copy.  It took a while as the used copy I found on Discogs got stuck in postal service limbo for a month or more. It finally arrived but oddly enough it is probably a good thing it was delayed. 

Why?

Well, in the interim the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame inducted blues legend Charley Patton. 

Why does that matter?

Well, the album Reverend Peyton issued in 2011 — about 10 years ago this month, in fact — is called Peyton On Patton, a tribute to Charley Patton, recorded in a manner akin to how the original blues artists recorded: with one microphone strategically placed in a room or studio, playing guitar and singing their souls out.

For those not familiar with Mr. Patton’s music, perhaps a few lines from the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame website will help understand why he’s known to some as the “Father of The Delta Blues” :

“Charley Patton picked up his first guitar at age 7, shortly after moving to Dockery Plantation in Mississippi. As an elder statesman of the blues, he mentored a who’s who of Delta musicians including Son House, Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf. Patton recorded his first session for Paramount Records in 1929, cutting seminal songs like “Pony Blues,” which the Library of Congress later canonized in the National Recording Registry.”

Indeed, in the liner notes to the album, Peyton writes: “When I first heard Charley Patton, my life was changed forever. I was hooked. He made it sound like two guitars. I have spent a lifetime admiring and studying his music… Only now do I feel confident enough to pay tribute to my Patron Saint Charley Patton.”

Across these two sides of a lovely standard weight vinyl album, Peyton delivers impassioned performances of many of his favorite Patton songs. There are three versions of “Some Of These Days I’ll Be Gone,” including Banjo and Slide Guitar versions. 

While Peyton On Patton was recorded in the spirit of Charley Patton’s originals – all done in basically one four hour session — the fidelity benefits from modern recording technology. So don’t expect to hear scratches and blurry vocals in this recording — it is very clear and rich sounding, especially when you turn up the volume on your amp a bit.  

There is a nice sense of the room they were recording in and the resonance of the guitars used (apparently Peyton spent hours choosing the actual guitar strings used so they would be closer to what Patton used back in the day!).  This is the real deal folks. Not surprisingly, the wiki tells me that upon its release in 2011 it reached #7 on the Billboard Blues Album charts

Here’s the really cool thing: if you can play 78s, it sounds fantastic! It is a modern microgroove recording pressed on vinyl so no need to use a 78 RPM monaural cartridge (and you certainly don’t want to play it on a Victrola which would shred the vinyl!!).  But it does make me wonder about modern audiophile 45 RPM releases put out by labels like Mobile Fidelity: might a 78 RPM edition of favorite albums be even better sounding than 45 RPM edition?

One side has a version of “Jesus Is A Dying Bed Maker” which was recorded in the Cotton Gin at Dockery Farms — the so called “birthplace of the blues” and the plantation where Charley Patton had once been employed (check out this article and this one too for more information about the place and its importance and relevance).

Frank Zappa might call this “conceptual continuity.” I think it is simply a brilliant pilgrimage and musical journey. 

You can stream Peyton On Patton via Reverend Peyton’s Bandcamp page (click here) but you should try to get the album if you can. This is a mighty fine tribute.

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