‘High Water Everywhere’ and the father of Delta Blues

Charley Patton
Charley Patton

Charley Patton is considered by many to be the father of Delta Blues. What does that actually mean? A combination of location, timing and talent, put him at the leading edge of the new musical direction of the 1920’s. He was one of, if not the first, to play what we might recognize as blues.

Patton was a prolific songwriter, a powerful singer, with an aggressive guitar style that had him popping bass strings, banging on the box, and playing behind his back. He brought a bit of vaudeville into the blues as well, and his recordings are laced with vocal asides, as if two people were performing. This passion, talent and intensity made him one of the best-known traveling performers of the time,  perhaps the first real “blues man”. Among the future blues stars who learned directly from him were John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf.

“High Water Everywhere” was a song Patton recorded in 1929, written about the great Mississippi flood of 1927. It was the most destructive flood in America’s history, with water levels even higher then the disastrous 2010 Mississippi floods.

The aftermath of the flood was one of the things that drove many African-Americans to move to northern cities.

Rory Block has spent much of her career painstakingly transcribing and recreating the intricate guitar work of blues originals like Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell and Memphis Minnie. In the 1960’s she left home at 15 to seek out the living legends of blues—John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis and Son House. She recorded “High Water Everywhere” on her 2005 CD From The Dust.

Guitar phenomenon Joe Bonamassa has always paid attention to his blues roots.

While he has concentrated on original rock, he stays connected to the blues by including at least one or two blues songs on his CDs, from people like B.B. King, Albert Collins and Buddy Guy. His 2006 version of “High Water Everywhere” is a complete re-orchestration of Patton’s composition, laced with counter melodies and moody harmonies. This is a cool live performance of Bonamassa and his acoustic version of the tune:


Here are the complete versions of “High Water Everywhere” tracked through time:


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