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Robert Petway

Robert Petway

African-American blues singer and guitarist
Robert Petway
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro African-American blues singer and guitarist
Was Musician Singer Guitarist Songwriter
From United States of America
Type Music
Gender male
Birth 18 October 1907, Yazoo City
Death Chicago
Star sign Libra
Peoplepill ID robert-petway
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The details

Biography

Robert Petway (possibly October 18, 1907 – May 1978) was an African-American blues singer and guitarist. He recorded only 16 songs, but it has been said that he was an influence on many notable blues and rock musicians, including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix. There is only one known picture of Petway, a publicity photo from 1941.

Uncertainties over birth and death

Little is known about Petway. It has been speculated that he was born at or near the J.F. Sligh Farm, near Yazoo City, Mississippi, the birthplace of his close friend and fellow bluesman Tommy McClennan. Research by Jason Rewald suggests that Petway may have been born at Gee's Bend, Alabama. His name at birth may have been spelled Pettway or Pettiway. However, researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc suggest that the person who married in Chicago and died there in 1978, aged 59, is unlikely to be the Petway who was a musician in Mississippi in 1940. According to his Social Security registration, he may have been born in 1907, though Eagle and LeBlanc suggest around 1902. The date and cause of his death are unknown.

Career

Like many bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta, Petway traveled as a musician, playing at parties, roadhouses, and other venues. Petway and McClennan often travelled and performed together. After McClennan had been in Chicago for a few years, Petway travelled north to join him and cut records, as did Georgia's Frank Edwards, who had met them in Mississippi.

"Catfish Blues"

Petway recorded the song "Catfish Blues" in 1941. Among many other musicians who played variations of the song, Muddy Waters used the arrangement and lyrics of "Catfish Blues" for his song "Rollin' Stone" (the song from which the Rolling Stones took their name). The composition credit given to Petway is based entirely on the recording date of his version of the song, but it cannot establish that his version was the original and the source of later versions. There is speculation that Tommy McClennan wrote the song, as he himself recorded it as "Deep Blues Sea". David "Honeyboy" Edwards (a follower of Petway's), asked if Petway wrote the song, replied, "He just made that song up and used to play it at them old country dances. He just made it up and kept it in his head." In his autobiography, Edwards also remembered the Delta blues guitarist Tom Toy, from Leland, Mississippi, who apparently was well known locally for his version of "Catfish Blues". Toy never recorded.

The second verse of Petway's "Catfish Blues" is as follows:

What if I were a catfish, mama
I said swimmin’ deep down in, deep blue sea
Have these gals now, sweet mama, settin’ out,
Settin’ out hooks for me, settin’ out hook for me
Settin’ out hook for me, settin’ out hook for me
Settin’ out hook for me, settin’ out hook for me

The first verse of Muddy Waters's "Rollin' Stone" has similar lyrics:

Well, I wish I was a catfish,
swimmin in a oh, deep, blue sea
I would have all you good lookin women,
fishin, fishin after me
Sure 'nough, a-after me
Sure 'nough, a-after me
Oh 'nough, oh 'nough, sure 'nough

Disappearance and death

There is no record, official or unofficial, of Petway's death. The last record of his public life is a quote from Honeyboy Edwards: "nobody I know heard what become of him." The blues researcher Jason Rewald has suggested, on the basis of Social Security records, that Petway may have died in Chicago on May 30, 1978, but this has been contested by Eagle and LeBlanc. In his autobiography, Edwards stated that he had heard that Petway may have moved to Chicago, where Edwards himself lived, but that he never met him there.

Discography

Petway only recorded two sessions, both for Bluebird Records in Chicago.

Original 78s (in chronological order)

First session, recorded on March 28, 1941
Catalogue # Title
Bluebird B8726 "Rockin' Chair Blues" / "Let Me Be Your Boss"
Bluebird B8756 "Sleepy Woman Blues" / "Don't Go Down Baby"
Bluebird B8786 "My Little Girl" / "Left My Baby Crying"
Bluebird B8838 "Catfish Blues" / "Ride 'Em on Down"
Second session, recorded on February 20, 1942
Catalogue # Title
Bluebird B8987 "Boogie Woogie Woman" / "Hollow Log Blues"
Bluebird B9008 "Bertha Lee Blues" / "In the Evening"
Bluebird B9036 "My Baby Left Me" / "Cotton Pickin' Blues"
Bluebird unissued "Hard Working Woman" / "Ar'nt Nobody's Fool"
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 03 Sep 2019. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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References
http://www.americanbluesscene.com/2011/04/the-disappearance-of-robert-petway-a-new-theory
http://www.mocavo.com/Robert-Petway-1907-1978-Social-Security-Death-Index/13554319387928337109
http://www.document-records.com/series-5000.asp?offset=-1
http://www.thedevilsmusic.net/lyrics/robert_petway.html
https://web.archive.org/web/20050905152000/http://www.thedevilsmusic.net/lyrics/robert_petway.html
http://www.thedevilsmusic.net/lyrics/muddy_waters.html#Rollin_Stone
https://web.archive.org/web/20050905132551/http://www.thedevilsmusic.net/lyrics/muddy_waters.html#Rollin_Stone
http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=DOCD-5671
http://www.wirz.de/music/petwafrm.htm
https://www.allmusic.com/artist/p371942
http://earlyblues.com/essay_catfish.htm
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