When James Brown wanted to give Bobby Kennedy his endorsement for president, Bob Patton was the guy Brown chose to deliver the message. Patton's skills as a music promoter attracted the biggest names in music, including such clients as Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Solomon Burke and Otis Redding. Known as the go-to guy for getting artists exposure in Georgia and beyond for nearly four decades, Patton died Oct. 7 at the age of 70 from an aortic aneurism.
Originally from Ohio, he first worked as a DJ at radio station WDOH in Dayton, playing race music — the tag laid on blues-based music performed by black artists before the term R&B came into vogue. He met Brown while handling promotion for the station and so impressed the Godfather that Brown hired Patton to be his promoter and booking agent from 1968-’77. Brown was in the midst of inventing funk during that era with such hits as “Cold Sweat."
Brown considered Patton family, often saying that Patton’s daughter was “the Godfather’s goddaughter.” Brown even agreed to buy the promoter a Cadillac after Patton dropped a few hints about not being able to afford one. “So Bob went down and got himself a ’68 Eldorado, baby blue, and drove it home,” Patton biographer Phil Jones reveals. But Patton discovered that as good as his promotional skills were, the Godfather was still in charge. “The next month his paycheck was short and he went to Brown and said, ‘What happened?’ And Brown said, ‘Well, I bought the car and now you pay for it.’”
Three years ago, Patton teamed up with Atlanta bluesman Sammy Blue, joining Blue’s Georgia Legacy Foundation, which aids and promotes Georgia musicians. “He loved black culture in America,” Blue says of Patton, “and he gravitated towards the music.”
But while Patton felt very comfortable within black culture, “it was never a [race] thing with him,” Blue says. “He just seemed to move in that world very easily. He was very comfortable with everyone.”
More than a mere promoter, his support helped cement the legacy of black music during an era when America was still coming to terms with its intolerant past. “He was a pivotal person in the development of popular music,” says Jones. “Bob was the Forrest Gump of music. He was everywhere.”