Willie Lee Patton

Biography by

Sometimes all it takes is one recording session to earn a place in the history books, but there are plenty of artists who don't seem to have gotten more than one such opportunity, either. These rules…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Sometimes all it takes is one recording session to earn a place in the history books, but there are plenty of artists who don't seem to have gotten more than one such opportunity, either. These rules apply to both singer Willie Lee Patton, and the drummer and bandleader Charlie Dowell. One reason for their fairly shared obscurity might have been their base of action: Nashville. The village known for its country and western music was also the source of rhythm and blues innovations in the early '50s, a historical reality that runs strongly counter to the official point of view of the Nashville chamber of commerce, (i.e. that there are no black people in Nashville).

Patton and Dowell shared credits on the first-ever record of blues on the Excello label, making them part of the story of one of those elite record labels blues' collectors tend to acquire as a complete catalog. The label indeed kicked off its activities with a recording truly indicative of the Nashville rhythm and blues scene at its best. Excello producers returned to Nashville during the decade for other sessions, but like blues history itself, the city more strongly associated with this label's recording activities was Chicago. "Wail Daddy" is the most famous of the two songs cut by Patton with the Charlie Dowell Orchestra in early 1953. That title, combined with sleazy art work, was enough enticement to sell thousands of copies of a compilation entitled Wail Daddy! Nashville Jump Blues released by Ace. This is one of several representations of this Excello title out in the world of rhythm and blues compilations.

However a listener arrives at ownership of the Patton and Dowell sides, the conclusion is obvious. Just how springy a jump blues can be was proven through the expansion into big band ensemble largesse. The liberating factor of a rhythmic feel influenced by swing doesn't hurt, either. It all adds up to blues with the urbane sophistication of jazz, a composite that obviously fit in comfortably in some parts of Nashville, if not on Music Row itself. From jump blues, the flip of a side brings forth a different complaint. "Allotment Blues," a song sometimes identified with the full title of "Allotment Blues (Dear John)," belongs to the genre of songs describing depressing news delivered by mail to soldier boys.