Thursday, January 23, 2020

Deconstructing the Dockery Myth

B.B. King at Dockery Farms in the 1970s
In their “Response” (vol. 50, no. 1, Spring 2019) to T. DeWayne Moore’s article “Revisiting Ralph Lembo” (vol. 49, no. 2, Fall 2018), Edward Komara and Gayle Dean Wardlow cite my research and publications as the primary endorsement of their position that famed Mississippi blues artist Charley Patton was “discovered” and sent north to record for Paramount Records by H. C. Speir, as Wardlow has long claimed, rather than by Ralph Lembo, as suggested recently by Moore. I would like to clarify my position on this matter in the light of recent research, including Moore’s article. In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I provided advice and information to Moore in the preparation of his article, although its conclusions are his own. I regret that this matter of who “discovered” Patton may be currently overshadowing Patton’s own greatness as an artist, but the controversy is not trivial and actually has importance beyond Charley Patton. It speaks to issues of research methodology and the “established facts” that researchers accept and perpetuate, sometimes for decades.

By way of background for readers, Charley Patton first recorded for Paramount on June 14, 1929, at the Gennett studio in Richmond, Indiana. He made two subsequent recording sessions for Paramount in its new studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, in late January/early February 1930 and August 1930, and one session for American Record Corporation’s Vocalion label in New York City on January 30-31 and February 1, 1934. At the time of his first session Patton’s home was somewhere in the Delta in the northwestern part of Mississippi. Speir was based in Jackson, Mississippi, a hundred miles or more from Patton’s home. Lembo was based in Itta Bena, Mississippi, in the Delta. Both Speir and Lembo were the owners of music/record stores in their respective locations and had already sent or brought other African American musicians to recording studios.