Charley Patton, Gil Scott-Heron & Kraftwerk Threading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Needle From Roots To Present

Charley Patton
Michael Ochs Archives
– Charley Patton

Charley Patton

Charley Patton died in 1939, long before the strains of “Rocket 88” or “Rock Around The Clock” were first pressed into vinyl, but the Father of the Delta Blues’ influence on bluesmen from Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf and passed down through Chuck Berry to Jimi Hendrix to Gary Clark Jr. is as close as it gets to planting the seed that grew into rock. 
He was born near Bolton, Mississippi, and grew up the son of a sharecropper on the Will Dockery Plantation in the Delta where he started watching and learning from older guitar players who came and went on the farm. He was playing by age 7 and soon writing his own compositions, developing a unique style and performing in local juke joints and at house parties. 
Patton’s raw, throaty vocals were accompanied by a polyrhythmic playing style that could sound like multiple instruments and a percussive tapping on the guitar body – all of which blended to create a new sound from the Delta.
Traveling up and down the Mississippi River, he learned to perform not only blues, but folk, country and gospel music. With a vast repertoire, he traveled to Richmond, Indiana, and its Gennett Recording Studio where in 1929 he recorded a voluminous amount of music that was released as 78s by Paramount Records.
But it wasn’t just his recorded output that caught the attention of other artists who attempted to mimic Patton – his stage performance and showmanship included moves like dropping to his knees and playing his guitar behind his back.
According to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Patton’s songs “capture the pain of field hollers (‘Oh Death’), the joy of vaudeville (‘A Spoonful Blues’), the humor of ragtime (‘Shake It and Break It’), and the righteousness of gospel (‘I Shall Not Be Moved’). As a symbol of success and professionalism in his community, Patton’s story debunks the often-told myth of the downtrodden-but-mystically-gifted bluesman.”
Patton’s recording career would last only five years before he died on April 28, 1934, his grave going unmarked until now-fellow Rock Hall of Famer John Fogerty paid for a proper headstone inscribed “The Voice of the Delta – The Foremost Performer of Early Mississippi Blues Whose Songs Became Cornerstones of American Music.”
A collection of Patton recordings, The Definitive Charley Patton, was released by Catfish Records in 2001. Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton, a boxed set collecting Patton’s recorded works, won three Grammy Awards in 2003.
Patton’s song “Pony Blues” (1929) was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2006.
Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron
Erica Echenberg
– Gil Scott-Heron

With the recent launches of private space projects by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Virgin’s Richard Branson, Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey On The Moon” – written in 1970 – seems as relevant as ever.
But pieces like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” “Johannesburg” and “No Knock” were – and still are – the soundtracks of movements. “No Knock” was released in 1972 but just last year returned as an anthem for Black Lives Matter after the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.
“For me, ‘No Knock,’ which is about police, is also for  Breonna Taylor,” Scott-Heron’s son, Rumal Rackley, says about his father’s legacy. “There are a lot of his songs that obviously are written for the times that he wrote them in, but so many of them apply to right now. I wouldn’t call him futuristic; it’s just that it’s still like this. But the relevancy is pretty amazing.”
Scott-Heron’s work as a poet, author, jazz musician, activist and “bluesologist,” as he liked to call himself, laid the groundwork for rap, hip-hop and neo-soul, particularly among more politically minded artists like Rage Against The Machine and Public Enemy. 
He also influenced nonconformists like Patti Smith and MF Doom, with his fusion of spoken word poetry, jazz, funk and soul that continues to inspire.
He was the first artist signed to Clive Davis’ then-fledgling Arista Records in 1975, marking a particularly prolific period when he was releasing songs addressing political hypocrisy (“H2Ogate Blues”), addiction (“The Bottle”), Reaganomics (“B-Movie”), and wrongful imprisonment (“Angola, Louisiana”).
“He would tour in Europe and Africa and sell out stadiums,” Rackley tells Pollstar. “People who didn’t speak English were singing his songs. People would come up to him, sometimes just like on the subway, and they would know everything about him and his music.”
Scott-Heron was active in the anti-apartheid movement and in 1975 released “Johannesburg” addressing the issue in South Africa and, a decade later, contributed “Let Me See Your I.D,” to Artists United Against Apartheid – Sun City. But he was also instrumental in the effort to create the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday and was involved in the “No Nukes” campaign in the 1980s.
“In Africa, I think he knew his influence and his reach well and would be happy that he was able to reach people because he had messages that he was trying to get out,” Rackley says. “He was glad that he was able to reach those people, and that’s what we still try to do. His music can reach people who still might not know of it.”
Despite many years of hard living, addiction and serving prison time for cocaine possession, Scott-Heron’s legacy is such that he continued to perform in front of adoring audiences nearly up to his death in 2011. His last box office entry in Pollstar archives is a 2010 appearance at Coachella, the same year he released his final album, I’m New Here
He received a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 Grammys and “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014. 
Most recently, the St. Mary’s Park amphitheater in the Bronx bearing his name opened Oct. 12 in New York City. Rackley says the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction of his father as an Early Influencer is especially gratifying.
“It’s a phenomenal recognition and honor, and I’m honored for him,” Rackley says. “I think that being inducted at all in any category is a major achievement. But I found it to be particularly great that it is in the Early Influencers category because I feel like that fits perfectly. He  was an early influence of the hip-hop genre and for people who are socially conscious and aware of what’s going on in the world and not afraid to speak it. I want to thank the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the acknowledgment, and I’m very pleased that they had that awareness.”

Frohling/Kraftwerk/Getty Images
– Kraftwerk


There are many bands out there, whose impact on music can’t be measured. Their impact on a vast array of music genres and cultures is too profound to quantify – that’s Kraftwerk. The German Man-Machine didn’t just lay the foundations for all forms of electronic music, but, by extension, hip-hop, too. Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Dr. Dre, The Chemical Brothers, New Order, LCD Soundsystem, Busta Rhymes and Pharrell Williams are just a few of the major artists who over the years sampled Kraftwerk. Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins once said: “When I heard their music I automatically knew I had to tighten up what I was doing … I can say for sure that they put Germany on the map for me. When I was a kid in school in America, the only thing we learned about Germany was World War II.”
Kraftwerk is one of the few German bands that had Americans sing along and make up fantasy words, something that’s all too familiar to Germans growing up with Anglo-American music. The band celebrated its international breakthrough with its 1974 album Autobahn, which reached No. 5 in the U.S. and No. 4 on the UK charts, outperforming its position in Germany. Kraftwerk had a very successful road career, with the band, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports, grossing $9.2 million over 62 shows with average gross of $184,000. Plans to tour in 2020 were thwarted. Florian Schneider, co-founder of Kraftwerk, passed away at the age of 73.  He was involved in all of the band’s classic albums, including Radio-Aktivität (1975), Trans Europa Express (1977), Die Mensch-Maschine (1978) and Tour De France (2003).
CAA’s Emma Banks, who’s been working with the band since 1990, said: “Kraftwerk are unparalleled in their influence in the music industry. It’s beyond me as to why it’s taken quite this long for them to be honoured by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a privilege and a joy to have worked with them for 30 years. There have been some incredible shows, one I remember particularly vividly was part of the Manchester International Festival. The show was played at the Velodrome, which is home to the British Olympic cyclists, and during the performance of Tour de France we had four Olympic cyclists on the velodrome track cycling faster and faster as the band played the track. It was truly a special performance, it brought a tear to my eye, and is one I will never forget.”