The ain’t-broke blues of Charley Patton

The adage goes that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, bluesman Charley Patton took that advice to heart when he put out his hit song, “Some Summer Day.”

“The record is basically a complete and total rip off of The Mississippi Sheiks’ ‘Sitting on Top of the World,’” said John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records. “You will find that it’s the exact same melody.”

Patton is a well-known, successful bluesman in his own right. So why did he choose to borrow so liberally from another group of artists?

“Charley recorded that because The Mississippi Sheiks sold a million copies of ‘Sitting On Top of the World,”’ Tefteller said. “He saw a good thing and wanted to cash in on it.”

Oddly enough, the connection between Patton and the Sheiks is relative, so to speak. The Sheiks, formed in Jackson around 1926, consisted of Walter Vinson, Bo Carter, Lonnie Chatmon and Sam Chatmon, who were the sons of Ezell Chatmon, according to Allmusic.com. Turns out Ezell, who also happened to have his own popular string band around the turn of the century, was also Charley Patton’s uncle. Go figure.

Novice blues fans may hear Patton’s version and focus on the peppy tune without realizing exactly how and where he got the idea. Part of that is because Patton followed the No. 1 rule of doing a good cover song — make it yours.

“The thing I like about it is it’s actually very catchy,” Tefteller said. “His version of it is done in such an upbeat, happy way.”

That’s not exactly an easy feat, given the murderous subject matter of Patton’s lyrics.

“He actually improved the song for me,” Tefteller said. “I like his version better than The Sheiks’, but that’s because I like him so much.”

Patton’s distinctive voice sets him apart from other bluesmen, Tefteller said.

“Some people can’t stand it. Some people can’t listen to him; they think it’s too rough and too raw and too difficult to translate. To me, it’s the most authentic blues that was ever done,” Tefteller said. “Of all the records that he did, I can’t think of one that’s bad.”

When you listen to Patton’s “Some Summer Day,” chances are you’ll notice two guitars, one of which is played by Willie Brown. Blues trivia buffs know Brown from his work backing Patton, as well as blues legend Son House. Brown is also mentioned as Robert Johnson’s friend in the song “Crossroads.”

Of course, it’s not exactly easy to listen to Patton or Brown’s work on “Some Summer Day” on one of the original 78s that Paramount pressed.

“I think there’s two, maybe three copies of this known,” Tefteller said. “I have a near-new one, which is the best one out there. There’s another one that’s in really nice shape but cracked all the way to the label, and another one that’s battered, and that’s it.”

Should another copy of Patton’s “Some Summer Day” ever surface, Tefteller expects it would bring a tidy sum at auction. A beat-up copy would sell for thousands, while a nice copy could go for as much as $15,000, he estimates.

“If another one should turn up, it’s gonna be a big deal and expensive,” Tefteller said. “The only good thing is, I don’t need it, so you won’t be bidding against me. But you’ll be bidding against the rest of the world that doesn’t have it.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only rare Charley Patton record out there. Only one copy is known to exist of Patton’s “Heart Like Railroad Steel;” same goes for “Devil Sent The Rain Blues,” Tefteller said.


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