Very little is known about Henry Sloan or his life other than the fact that he lived at Dockery Farms, Cleveland, Mississippi. Even his date of death is a mystery. What is known is that Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, Son House, and many others claimed him as their teacher and as the originator of what became the delta blues style.
It is possible that Henry Sloan was the musician that W.C. Handy heard playing guitar at train station at Tutwiler near Dockery Farms in 1903. In his autobiography, Handy wrote that "a lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plucking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags; his feet peeped out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar. The effect was unforgettable. The singer repeated the line ‘Goin' where the Southern cross the Dog’ three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard."
Charley Patton - learnt from Henry Sloan
This mysterious forefather and likely founder of the delta blues. He taught Charley Patton "everything he knew".
Henry Sloan (born January 1870 – died 13th March 1948?) was an African American musician, one of the earliest figures in the history of Delta Blues. Very little is known for certain about his life, other than he tutored Charlie Patton in the ways of the blues. There have been suggestions that he moved to Chicago shortly after World War I.
According to researcher David Evans, Henry Sloan was born in Mississippi in 1870, and by 1900 was living in the same community as the Patton and Chatmon families near Bolton, Mississippi. He moved to the Dockery Plantation near Indianola about the same time as the Pattons, between 1901 and 1904. Patton received some direct instruction from Sloan, and played with him for several years. Two of Patton’s later accompanists, Tommy Johnson and Son House, both stated that Patton "dogged every step" of Sloan's.
Further research based on Census records has suggested that, in 1920, Sloan and his family were living around West Memphis, Arkansas. He may have been the Henry Sloan whose death, aged 78, occurred in Crittenden County on March 13, 1948.
A railroad crossing where the Southern railroad tracks crossed the Yazoo Delta railroad in Moorhead, Mississippi.
The Southern was a railroad later bought by the Illinois Central and for many in the Delta was the road out of poverty to Chicago. Another railroad, the Yazoo Delta, was more popularly known as the Yellow Dog.
Believed to be immortalised in a Henry Sloan song, and heard at Tutwiler, Mississippi, by W.C. Handy in 1903.
I'm Going Where the Southern Cross the Dog (by Henry Sloan)