26 “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” by Charley Patton (The Masked Marvel)


July 6, 2009 by gadaya

Charley Patton’s World

Charley (or Charlie) Patton is considered by many the most important bluesman of all times, the father of the “Delta Blues”, which is a genre that most people see as the “real, deep Blues”. Raised near the famous Dockery Plantation, a big cotton and sawmill plantation and the “mythical” birthplace of the Blues, Patton learned his skills with Henry Sloan, an older Bluesman born in 1870. His powerful guitar playing and vocals influenced all the other musicians around him, including Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Son House and the younger Robert Johnson would learn to play the Blues from them. Patton was very popular in all the South and he was a real showman on stage, making tricks like playing the guitar behind his head or his back, interspreading different vocal comments during his songs. His erratic life, his inclinations toward booze and women and his short life also contributed to make him a “Blues” icon.charleypatton1

Like for Robert Johnson, the label “Delta Blues” is quite limiting the range of their music. The repertoire of Patton (and Johnson) included a broader range of popular music, religious songs and pieces that came from the white tradition and they could includes them along with their “Blues” to please different audiences. The fact is that we see them today as genuine folk musicians rather than “entertainers” is due in part to the romantized and almost mystical way they were described by white Blues lovers and writers.  He recorded more than 60 sides during his rather short career, some with other musicians, some with a female vocalist, but a large part of his recordings he plays alone with his guitar. His unique spontaneous style and incredible timing combined with percussive effects on the guitar, vocal eccenticities made some of this sides, the most passionate pieces of music ever recorded.

-Go to this wikipedia page for a more complete biography and a list of his recordings

-Go here to see Robert Crumb’s cartoon biography

-Music writer and musician Elijah Wald, who wrote a very interesting book about Robert Johnson (“Escaping the Delta”), wrote also a superb essay about Patton, where he tries to picture the musician in “context”, escaping the romanced and mythical proses so common about Blues icons.

-Really appropriate to this post i found this article by Robert K.D Peterson: “Charley Patton and his Mississippi Boweavil Blues”

-There are two books dedicated entirely to the life and music of Charley patton:one by guitar player John Fahey and the other by Stephen Calt and Gayle Wardlow.There are both out-of-print but you can maybe find them by doing a research on the net.

-You can have the Fahey book by buying the box-set he issued on his Revenant label along with 7 cds and a booklet. It’s pricey but a must-have for the real fan.

-Those with a low budget can nevertheless have Patton’s complete recordings with this JSP box-set or with excellent compilations issued by Yazoo records

-From my part, i offer you the 14 sides Patton recorded for his first session in Richmond in 1929:

  1. Pony Bluescharlie_patton_78_1FULLSIZE
  2. A Spoonful Blues
  3. Down The Dirt Road Blues
  4. Prayer Of Death, Pt. 1
  5. Prayer Of Death, Pt. 1
  6. Screamin’ & Hollerin’ The Blues
  7. Banty Rooster Blues
  8. Tom Rushen Blues
  9. It Won’t Be Long
  10. Shake It & Break It (But Don’t Let It Fall Mama)
  11. Pea Vine Blues
  12. Mississippi Boweavil Blues
  13. Lord I’m Discouraged
  14. I’m Goin’ Home



-When Paramount released “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” in 1929, instead of the artist’s name, they wrote “The Masked Marvel” and organized a contest for the customers to guess the real identity of the artist. The winner would win a free record of his choice… In 1952, on the Anthology, Harry Smith choosed to keep the “Masked Marvel” name on the record…masked

The Boll Weevil Variations

Boll_weevil_illustrationThe Boll weevil, a little insect that feeds on cotton buds and flowers, originated in Mexico and migrated to the U.S in the late 19th century.First in the Texas area and then all across the South, it destroyed the cottonfields and plantations and caused the migration of thousands of farmers and field workers toward the northern big cities. It became the subject of many songs in the 20th century but the most famous of this “Boll weevil” songs present a rather humourous dialogue between a farmer and the little bug and the chorus most of the time, repeats the phrase “Looking for a home”. Folklorists think the song originated with black people and one of the older version is the one Charley Patton sang in his 1929 recording “Mississippi Bollweavil Blues”. It was sometimes sung in a manner of a “field holler” by blacks but Leadbelly’s version, which has the “looking for a home” chorus became the most famous, the one many folksingers sang during the Folk revival.

-For more informations about the boll weevil and the damages he made in the South go to this wikipedia page and on this page, wou’ll find many interesting articles.

-Go to Roger Mc Guinn’s Folk Den page to listen to his version and read the lyrics

-Like i said above, the boll weevil was widely sung during the 20th century and you can find versions in many genres of american popular music: Blues, Jazz, Country, Folk, Rock n’roll, etc… I’ve selected 60 performances that i liked, staying mostly in the folk/blues tradition, with numerous wonderful field recordings made by Alan Lomax and other across the South. I’ve included some versions from the pop/rock world (Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran) but didn’t include the Brook Benton version, which was a huge hit in the 1960’s (you can listen to it on Youtube).

(The title is always “Boll Weevil” “Boll Weavil” or “Boll Weevil Blues” unless where indicated)


Part 1

  1. Richard Amerson from Boll Weevil Here, Boll Weevil Everywhere – Field RecordingsCottonFields
  2. Ma Raineyfrom Countin’ the Blues
  3. Oscar Woods from Texas Blues: Early Blues Masters From The Lone Star State
  4. Otis Webster from Country Negro Jam Session
  5. Blind Jesse Harris from Field Recordings Vol. 4: Mississippi & Alabama (1934-1942)
  6. Guitar Welch from 20 To Life: Prison Blues
  7. Eubie Blakefrom Memories of You
  8. Irvin ‘Gar Mouth’ Lowryfrom Boll Weevil Here, Boll Weevil Everywhere – Field Recordings
  9. Baby Face Leroy Foster from Chicago Is Just That Way
  10. Buster “Buzz” Ezell from Field Recordings Vol. 2: North & South Carolina, Georgia, Texas
  11. Rev. J.M. Milton(Silk Worms And Boll Weevils) from Preachers And Congregations Vol. 5 (1926-1931)
  12. Vera Hall from Boll Weevil Here, Boll Weevil Everywhere – Field Recordings
  13. John Henry Barbee fromBlues Live
  14. Jack Newman from Jack Newman (1938)
  15. Asa Ware from Field Recordings Vol. 15  1941 – 1942 “Rock Me Shake Me”


Part 2

  1. Bessie Smith from The Quintessence
  2. Alf (Chicken Dad) Valentinefrom Boll Weevil Here, Boll Weevil Everywhere – Field Recordings
  3. Gus Cannon from Walk Right In
  4. Charles Griffin (Boll Weevil rag) from  Boll Weevil Here, Boll Weevil Everywhere – Field Recordings
  5. Jaybird Coleman from The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Super Rarities
  6. Lead Belly from Lead Belly Sings for Children
  7. Finious (Flat Foot) Rockmore from Field Recordings Vol. 6: Texas (1933-1958)
  8. Pink Anderson from Classic African American Ballads
  9. Josh White from The Josh White Stories
  10. Blind Willie McTell from The Devil Can’t Hide From Me
  11. Willie George Albertine Kingfrom Field Recordings Vol. 5: Louisiana, Texas, Bahamas (1933-194
  12. Muddy Waters from This Is Muddy Waters Vol.2
  13. Mance Lipscomb (Ballad of the Boll Weevil) from Trouble In Mind
  14. Willie Williams (Boll Weevil been here) fromField Recordings Vol. 12: Virginia & South Carolina (1936-19
  15. Sid Hemphill and Lucius Smith from Field Recordings Vol. 15  1941 – 1942 “Rock Me Shake Me”




Part 3

  1. Ramblin’Jack Elliott from Ramblin’ Jack
  2. Erik Darling from Erik Darling Elektra lp
  3. James Leva (Boll Weevil/Raleigh and Spencer) from Memory Theatre
  4. Charlie Louvin (Dixie Boll Weevil) from Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs
  5. Lindsey And Conder from Rural Tennessee String Bands6
  6. Jim Plummer and The Firebirds fromMovin’ On
  7. Tommy Jarrell fromDown to the Cider Mill
  8. Jeanette Hicks fromThe Louisiana Hayride Archives
  9. Jo-Ann Kelly from Do It And More
  10. Old Crow Medicine Show from Eutaw
  11. Sam Hinton from I’ll Sing You a Story
  12. Dan Zanes & Kyra Middleton from Give US Your Poor
  13. Nate Leath from Rockville Pike
  14. Bill Bonyunfrom Who Built America: American History Through Its Folksongs
  15. Fred Gerlach from Twelve-String Guitar: Folk Songs and Blues Sung and Played by Fred Gerlach


Part 4

  1. Guy Carawan from Songs with Guy Carawan
  2. Tommy Faile from Oh Brother Can You Spare a Dime
  3. Carl Sandburg from The Great Carl Sandburg:  Songs of America
  4. Tex Ritter from Tex Ritter
  5. John-Alex Mason from Town and Country
  6. Sid Selvidgefrom Live At Otherlands
  7. Woody Guthrie from Complete Master Records
  8. Fiddlin’ John Carson (Dixie Boll Weevil)from People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-19
  9. Eddie Cochran from’50’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll, Vol. 2
  10. Pete Seeger from American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 3
  11. Shirley Collins and Davey Graham from Folk Roots, New Routes
  12. Hermes Nyefrom Texas Folk Song
  13. Fats Domino from The Greatest R&B Hits Of 1956
  14. Hallie Ormand fromOzark Folksongs
  15. Spider John Koernerfrom Raised By Humans



butterfly1965 (Photos are : Cottonfields workers, Sid Hemphill and Lucius Smith, Tommy jarrell, Spider John Koerner)

Down The Dirt Road Blues
Prayer Of Death, Pt. 1
Prayer Of Death, Pt. 1
Screamin’ & Hollerin’ The Blues
Banty Rooster Blues
Tom Rushen Blues
It Won’t Be Long
Shake It & Break It (But Don’t Let It Fall Mama)
Pea Vine Blues
Mississippi Boweavil Blues
Lord I’m Discouraged
I’m Goin’ HomePony Blues
A Spoonful Blues
Down The Dirt Road Blues
Prayer Of Death, Pt. 1
Prayer Of Death, Pt. 1
Screamin’ & Hollerin’ The Blues
Banty Rooster Blues
Tom Rushen Blues
It Won’t Be Long
Shake It & Break It (But Don’t Let It Fall Mama)
Pea Vine Blues
Mississippi Boweavil Blues
Lord I’m Discouraged
I’m Goin’ Home

17 thoughts on “26 “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” by Charley Patton (The Masked Marvel)

  1. Barbie says:

    Great Blog. Unique. Just discovered it a couple days ago. Great to compare different versions and emergence of “traditional” songs. Thanks.

    Please look at Boll Weevil Variations part 4 which seems to be corrupted in a way that Winrar will not repair.

    • gadaya says:

      Thanks for your comment. I tried the link for part 4 of the Boll Weeviil variations and it worked fine for me…

  2. Jon says:

    This is one incredible blog; it’s what should be best about the internet–the creativity, the sharing; it’s inspired and I’ve told everyone I know about it. I thank you so much for all your hard work, let alone for the brilliant idea to expound upon Harry Smith’s work. I think he would have approved. There is a corrupted file; I agree with the above. Winrar says it’s the Fiddlin’ John Carson track. Again, thanks.

  3. Jon says:

    It works with no problems now. Thanks, thanks, thanks. With your permission, I’m going to post a notice about your blog with No Depression, a highly regarded web community from the magazine now online with a growing number of contributors.

    • gadaya says:

      I saw a few editions of this magazine here in France. Looks interesting… Of course you have my permission…

  4. Claude says:

    Je découvre votre blog et je reste admiratif. Il n’y a quasiment rien sur ce type de musique sauf sur le forum Weenie Campbell ( et encore)que je lis attentivement. Maintenant grâce à vous on se sent un peu moins seul. Longue vie à votre initiative. J’écoute ( et joue un peu)cette musique depuis les années 60. Depuis cette époque, à part Sing out et Blues unlimited, il n’y avait pas beaucoup d’informations. Peut être maintenant serons-nous plus nombreux ! Bonne continuation

  5. magus says:

    Je voudrais que je pourrais écrire in français parfait pour exprimer mes remerciements. Encore une fois c’est un plaisir de recevoir cette musique très spéciale, grace à vous. Garry

  6. erwin bosman says:

    this is great stuff. I’m in full discovery process of pre war blues, and your blog is just amazing !


  7. […] Marvel’ (Paramount n° 12805). The winner of the contest would win a free record of his choice. It is not known how many winners there were, but there are indications that the sales of the 78 […]

  8. […] enormous series of songs in many different versions (you can find an interesting overview of them here) – there is also the example of the artist who nicknamed himself as Bo Weavil Jackson) – […]

  9. gadaya says:

    Part 2 of the Boll Weevil Variations is available again…

  10. spidy says:


    is there any chance to renew the links for the wonderful “Boll Weevil Variations”?

    Thx in advance


  11. Alissa says:

    I do consider all the concepts you’ve introduced on your post. They’re really convincing and can certainly work.
    Nonetheless, the posts are too short for starters.
    Could you please lengthen them a little from
    next time? Thank you for the post.

  12. You’re so awesome! I don’t think I’ve truly read anything like that before. So good to find somebody with genuine thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This site is something that is needed on the web, someone with a bit of originality!

  13. Ramona says:

    This blog is amazing! I am sad to see the links above have now expired. I know you’ve been asked several times before, but could you at least restore the Charley Patton 1929 recordings? I will name my first born after you!! ❤

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