In June 1929, Charley Patton, already over 40 years old, made the trip north from Dokery Farm to Richmond, Indiana, where Paramount Records were headquartered.
Here on 14 June, he recorded 14 sides and the first release from the man dubbed, ‘the Father of Delta Blues’ was ‘Pony Blues’ coupled with ‘Banty Rooster Blues’, with his second record following almost immediately, although it was not credited to Patton. ‘Prayer of Death (parts 1 and 2) were released under the name of Elder J.J. Hadley, probably given their more spiritual nature Paramount decided to distance the record from the more straight forward country blues of Patton’s debut.
For Charley’s third release, sometime around November 1929, Paramount’s marketing department went into overdrive, and did his career no harm in the process. They released ‘Mississippi Boweavil Blues’ and ‘Screamin’ and Hollerin’ The Blues’ and rather than having Charley Patton’s name on the label and in their adverts (above), they showed the record to be by someone they dubbed – ‘The Masked Marvel’.
The promotion for the record asked buyers to guess who it was that was singing the songs, offering as a prize another Paramount record of their choice – for free.
One of the sides was a song about the Boll Weavil, a small insect that feeds on cotton buds and flowers. It was in late 19th century that the Bo Weavill spread across the South, destroying the cotton fields and in turn whole plantations, which in turn caused spurred the migration of farm workers to the North and cities like Chicago. The song was not one actually written by Patton, he simply adapted what had probably been sung for years in and around the Mississippi Delta
The Masked Marvel, probably the first piece of creative marketing by a record label… and a long way from the last…