This blog is primarily dedicated to the women of the blues, but this time I wanted to write about the elusive Henry Sloan.
Henry Sloan was the originally Mississippi bad blues man, who also just happened to teach Charley Patton everything he knew. Henry was born around 1870 to a freed slave, Sam Sloan from South Carolina, and Native American, Laura Sloan, in Bolton, Mississippi. The 1900 census has him listed as a widower living on a plantation in Bolton, with his sons and grandchildren living nearby. As Paul Merry points out, yes, Henry was only 30 at this time, young to be a grandfather these days!
Paul’s article also reveals that in 1895, Henry was playing music with Armenter Chatmon, better known as Bo Carter from the Mississippi Sheiks, Armenter’s brothers, Sam (harmonica) and Lonnie (violin). Charley Patton was born in Bolton in 1891, and was a big fan of Henry’s as he grew up, spending all his time with him and the Chatmon’s.
The three families – Sloan, Chatmon and Patton – all moved together to the Dockery plantation in Cleveland around 1900. Dockery was the place where so many of the early blues men started out, and it’s not hard to influence someone with Henry’s abilities and charisma making an impact on musicians such as Son House, Tommy Johnson and Willie Brown.
Charley’s sometimes bandmates, Tommy Johnson and Son House, have said that Charley “dogged every step” of Henry’s, the man was obsessed and wanted to learn all the tricks and songs that Henry performed at picnics and dances. An important thing to consider is that Henry Sloan was possibly the first musician to set field hollers to guitar accompaniment, according to researcher David Evans. Charley played with Henry until Henry moved away from the area, potentially to Chicago after the war. A death certificate has been found that could be his, stating his death was in 1948 at the age of 78.
His music was never recorded, despite possibly writing so many of the early blues hits. Tommy Johnson claims that he wrote many of the classic blues tracks such as Pony Blues, that Charley Patton later recorded, but we’ll never know for sure. It’s also been suggested that he was the blues man that W.C Handy that fateful day at Tutweiler, but I’ve also heard Charley was there too.