A story from our 2001 Southern Music issue.
I first heard Charley Patton thirty years ago, on a two-LP compilation called The Story of the Blues, which I won in a contest. My adolescent ear was immediately sucked in by the mystery, the wit, the slyness, and the expressive variety of the performances of Blind Boy Fuller, Memphis Minnie, Texas Alexander, Leroy Carr, Barbecue Bob, Bessie Smith, Big Joe Turner, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Otis Spann, Blind Willie McTell, and the rest.
One evening in Nashville, a man walks down the railroad tracks, singing, and his voice rolls through the heavy air. In Meridian, Mississippi, a child runs barefoot in dry grass, chasing lightning bugs—yellow lights that disappear just as his hands reach toward them.