Dale Patton, 1950-2001
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Dale Patton was a crazy-maker of the highest order. I wouldn't hear from him for weeks, and then all of a sudden it'd be three or four phone calls in one day, or else he'd pop in here at the paper and start pestering me about the newsletter for the Baltimore Blues Society. He was the president and founder of the Blues Society and he roped me into helping him with the group's newsletter when he worked in City Paper's circulation department.
"Hey man, we gotta get this thing together," he would say. "You want me to call the printer to let him know when you're gonna be finished?" Of course, I hadn't even started yet, and already he's bugging me to finish. "Come on man, we can't be late again."
He'd stand there, the poster child for hyperactivity, swaying back and forth in his multicolored Zubas (kinda like MC Hammer pants) and one of his garish and even more multicolored blues-show T-shirts, topped off with a Blues Society ball cap, and ask me if he could use the phone.
"Yeah, sure, Dale--sit down, will ya? You're making me nervous--how many times you been in here? Go ahead and use the phone, sure, jeez." After I explained to him for about the million-billionth time how the phone worked, with the dial "9" to get out and all that, he'd sit down, his knee going up and down like he was riding a bike with one leg, and take care of business for the blues show coming up at the American Legion Hall in Rosedale. There was always a blues show coming up at the American Legion Hall in Rosedale, and Dale was always saying, "You comin' down this time? This one's gonna be the real deal, man." And they always were.
Dale probably could have made his living as a promoter, but he was happy just putting on shows and spreading the word about the blues. He loved the music, and he wanted everyone to stop listening to all the crap on the radio and go out to the show and hear it too. When he roped me into helping him with his Wednesday delivery route--something like 20,000 papers--he'd play tapes in the van. Dale turned me on to Magic Sam, Larry Johnson, Slim Harpo, and for a brief period in the mid-'90s, Dale had me firmly convinced that this flamenco guy, Paco Peña, was the planet's greatest living guitar player. It might have had something to do with getting up at 4 a.m. to deliver those goddamn papers.
Dale had big problems with drinking. He told me he missed a lot of good shows, not because he wasn't there but because he was too loaded. After his dad died several years back, he went off the deep end and got into hard drugs. Some good people got him into rehab, and, this is corny, but he came out of it a changed man. He started smoking cigarettes--"I gotta have something, you know?" More importantly, he started attending St. James Episcopal Church, a couple blocks from where he used to buy dope sometimes. The irony did not escape him.
Dale told me a few years ago he'd been diagnosed with cancer, and it was a downhill run for him, with surgeries and chemo, but along the way he found the energy to get involved with his church's activities and charities, and he roped me into doing some stuff for St. James: a few small print jobs and some help with raffles and some general straight-up begging around the holidays to raise money for the church's outreach programs. After not hearing from him for a while, I saw Dale about a month ago. He stopped by the office to see if I needed any help with the newsletter and asked if he could use the phone. After I explained to him about the dial "9" and all that, he called Belair Memorial Gardens. Jeez.
Anyone who remembers Dale and wants to do something in his memory should make a donation in his name to the Caring Tree Fund, 1020 W. Lafayette St., Baltimore, MD 21217.