DOCKERY PLANTATION ((BIRTHPLACE of DELTA BLUES)) By: RSKKZ/ Randy Meadows The music that was created, at least in part, by Dockery farm workers a century ago continues to influence popular culture to this day. It was a welcome diversion from their hard lives and a form of personal expression that spoke of woes and joys alike in a musical language all its own. Will Dockery, the son of a Confederate general that died at the battle of Bull Run, founded the plantation. Young Will Dockery had graduated from the University of Mississippi and in 1885, with a gift of $1,000 from his grandmother, purchased forest and swampland in the Mississippi Delta near the Yazoo and Sunflower Rivers. Recognizing the richness of the soil, he cleared the woods and drained the swamps opening the land for cotton. Word went out for workers and before long African-American families began to flock to Dockery Farms in search of work in the fields and, as tenant farmers (sharecroppers,) they cultivated cotton on the rich farmland. Throughout the South, large landowners opened their fields to sharecroppers who would lease plots of land to tend themselves. In return they had to share part of their harvested crops as rent for the use of the land. Contracts for sharecroppers were often harsh and many lived on the verge of starvation. Will Dockery had earned a good reputation for treating his African-American workers and sharecroppers fairly and thus attracted ambitious workers from throughout the South. The Dockery plantation by its peak in the mid 1930s consisted of 18,000 acres and extended over 28 square miles of rich fertile lowland along the Sunflower River. Will Dockery managed the land until the 1930s when his son, Joe Rice Dockery, took over and maintained the plantation through the Great Depression until his death in 1982. His widow, Keith Dockery McLean then ran the farm, which diversified to produce corn, rice and soybeans. In 1994, she turned the farm over to hired managers. It was Ms. McLean that realized that Dockery Farms was a hotbed of the blues and later in her life came to take pride in the farm's significance as a source of this music. Since her death in 2006, her daughters and grandchildren have owned Dockery and have established a foundation in hopes of funding research into its extensive historic archives of the Delta Blues. In the early 20th century, Dockery Farms was nearly self-sufficient, more so than its neighboring plantations. It had its own currency and general store, a physician, a railroad depot, a dairy, a seed house, cotton gin, sawmill, and three churches. There was also a school for the 1,000 to 3,000 men, women, and children who worked during the farm's busiest times as either day laborers or as sharecroppers. Farm workers often sang while working the fields and their music became their basic entertainment. The music from the fields and cabins of the farms in the Mississippi Delta became famous as the blues. African-American men, accompanying themselves on guitars, banjos, harmonicas, quills and jugs, would sing versions of popular songs and variations of "field hollers" as they planted, weeded, and picked cotton. The first reported sighting of the blues, however, was recorded in 1903 at the Tutwiler railroad depot near Dockery. Here, composer W. C. Handy noticed a "lean, loose-jointed Negro" playing a guitar and pressing the flat of a knife blade against the strings down its neck. The player created a "bluesy" effect while singing "going where the southern cross' the dog," a reference to a locally famous juncture of train lines. In 1900, Bill and Annie Patton and their 12 children took up residence at Dockery Farms. Their nine-yearold, Charlie, took to following guitarist Henry Sloan to his performances at picnics, fish-fries, and social gatherings at boarding houses where the day laborers lived. By 1910, Patton was himself a professional musician, playing songs such as his own "Pony Blues," often with fellow guitarist Willie Brown. Within the next five years Patton had come to influence Tommy Johnson, considered one of the best ragtime-blues guitarists of the day, who had traveled to Dockery. He had also joined the Chatmon brothers who recorded using the name the "Mississippi Sheiks" at their musical jobs throughout the area. Even though there were no juke joints on the farm, Charlie Patton and other bluesmen, drawn to Dockery by its fame, used the plantation as their base. They would travel the network of state roads around Dockery Farms to communities large enough to support audiences that loved the blues. it was Patton's live performances that inspired and influenced fans such as Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Ed "Son" House, Chester Burnett (also known as "Howlin' Wolf), and Roebuck "Pop" Staples. These important artists in blues history either lived at or passed through Dockery Farms.
Just across the road from Dockery Farms, on Rt. 8 east of Cleveland, Mississippi, down a gravel road and past a graveyard, is a crossroads. Dockery's was the home of Charley Patton and other Delta bluesmen--the birthplace of the blues, some say. Some workers on Dockery's insist that Robert Johnson was so intimidated by Patton's playing that he sold his soul at this crossroads one midnight. I don't believe that folktale. But this is a really cool crossroads. http://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/blues-talk-8.html http://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/blues-talk-9.html Thanks to Preston Rumbaugh of Clarksdale for the map he drew that helped me find this spot!
I have been researching "Will Brown from Drew" information to attempt to fill some of the holes in the stories of the different accounts of him. On Jan 16, 2012 I discovered a Draft Card from WWI for a WILL BROWN in 1918. His residence is DOCKERY FARMS. Sunflower County His Employer is WILL DOCKERY. He works at the Mill. He was born on July 4, 1885 33 years old in 1918. His WIFE is LUVENIA BROWN, living at Dockery. He is short height and Heavy Build. -*(If you notice, on the form, tall (Block 21)is on the left instead of the right (Block 23) in the normal left to right order on most forms. It is highly probable that short was marked because of the location of the wording to the right on this particular form. This a very reasonable explanation if we were to assume that this is THE WILL BROWN from DREW) His Serial # 3942 His Order# 5601 The form puts THIS Will Brown at DOCKERY PLANTATION at the same time as CHARLEY PATTON! Will Brown's age coincides on this document with at least two references; "Chasin That Devil Music", Gayle Dean Wardlow©1998. Page 189. Paragraph 1. "Maybelle also states that the Brown she knew looked "bout 25 in the late 1910s." Paragraph 3. Dick Bankston stated Brown was in his early twenties when he met him in 1912. Whether or not THIS Will Brown played music, we don't know yet. AUDIO: Gress Barnett and Hayes McMullan ©Gayle Dean Wardlow RSKKZ©Randy Meadows2012 Jan. 18, 2012
Dockery Farms, between Cleveland and Ruleville, Mississippi: cotton plantation with original barns and machinery. Around 1900, there lived and worked about 2000 people, including many blues musicians. Dockery had a store, its own currency, its own doctor, and was to be known, to be good for the employees and that was rare. Dockery has produced many celebrities, including Charley Patton, 1890 - 1934, the first blues singer who was generally known, because there are 56 songs recorded of him. Narrator: Morgan Freeman. a CP & MG production© Editing: MG. soundtrack: Charlie Patton© Dockery Farms bevindt zich tussen Cleveland en Ruleville in Mississippi: Katoenplantage met originele schuren en machines. Rond 1900 woonden en werkten er zon 2000 mensen, waaronder veel bluesmuzikanten. Dockery had een winkel, een eigen muntsoort, een eigen dokter, en stond er om bekend, goed te zijn voor de medewerkers en dat was zeldzaam. Dockery heeft veel beroemdheden voortgebracht, o.a. Charley Patton, 1890 - 1934, de 1e blueszanger die algemeen bekendheid kreeg, omdat er 56 liedjes van hem zijn opgenomen. Commentaar: Morgan Freeman. een CP & MG productie© Montage: MG. Sountrack: Charlie Patton©
Dockery Plantation Walkaround -
Born in April 1891, between Edwards and Bolton in southern Mississippi, Charley Patton was the scrawny child of sharecropper parents. In 1900, his family moved 100 miles north to the Delta and the Will Dockery Plantation. There Patton fell under the spell of guitarist Henry Sloan and would follow him to gigs. By 1910, he had become proficient as a performer and songwriter, having already composed "Down The Dirt Road Blues," a slow drag called "Banty Rooster Blues," and his theme song "Pony Blues." After the turn of the decade Patton began playing with Willie Brown, a guitarist who would later become a regular on his recordings. Patton's music began to exert considerable influence; guitarist Tommy Johnson had moved to the Dockery vicinity circa 1913 and was soon playing Delta blues including Patton's "Pony Blues." Around 1914, Patton began playing his guitar with members of the Chatmon family, working picnics and frolics. Bo, Sam, and Lonnie Chatmon and guitarist Walter Vinson later would gain fame as the Mississippi Sheiks. Bo Chatmon also recorded many titles as soloist Bo Carter. Patton continued playing and rambling around the Delta, going north to Memphis and as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana. By 1926, a young Robert Johnson had begun following Patton and Brown to gigs trying to learn from the veteran guitarists. Patton made his first recording in June 1929, cutting fourteen songs for the Paramount label, all issued on 78s. Such was the success of his initial session that he was invited four months later to Paramount's new studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, where he recorded twenty-eight additional tunes. Patton's polyrhythmic picking, accompanied by tapping the body of the guitar, created an intricate dance melody that its author could play for thirty minutes or more. Son House, who recorded in a 1930 session that also featured Patton and Brown, recalled that Charley "clowned" for an audience by playing the guitar behind his back or between his knees. Patton included regional landmarks in his tunes - places that a local record-buying audience would be familiar with, including a Moorehead, Mississippi railroad crossing, "Where The Southern Crosses The Dog," in "Green River Blues" and Parchman Farm in "A Spoonful Blues." Howlin' Wolf, who moved to Dockery in 1926, recalled seeing Patton on the town square in Drew, not far from Dockery Plantation. Patton's hypnotic three-note songs also deeply influenced Clarksdale's John Lee Hooker, who recorded his own version of Patton's "Pea Vine Blues." Bukka White also cited a desire "to come to be a famous man, like Charley Patton," and demonstrated a similar knack for playing dance songs for extended periods. Patton's last recording session was in New York City in February 1934, two months before his death. Charley Patton died April 28, 1934, at 350 Heathman Street in Indianola, Mississippi. Patton's grave is located in Holly Ridge, Mississippi, and the tombstone acknowledges his pivotal role in the development of the Delta Blues.
From Dockery Farms, Drive South and this is what you will see.... Goin South- From Dockery Plantation
"Waiting for the Sun" performed at Dockery Plantation-Bolivar County-Mississippi
Birth place of the Blues. Charley Payton, Robert Johnson, Son House & Willie Brown played during the working plantation years.
Legend has it that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in the Mississippi Delta, most likely just outside Clarksdale. Blues scholar and musician Adam Gussow takes you there, sort of. http://www.modernbluesharmonica.com (Happy music is "Gator's Groove," courtesy of The Fins.)