Robert Petway

Robert Petway

Featured Recordings Catfish Blues

Hollow Log Blues 

 

 

Robert Petway was an African-American blues singer and guitarist.

Very little is known about Robert Petway. His birthplace is speculated to have been at or near J.F. Sligh Farm near Yazoo City, Mississippi, birthplace of his close friend and fellow bluesman Tommy McClennan. His birthdate is guessed at 1908, and the date and even the occurrence of his death is unknown. There is only one known picture of Petway, a publicity photo from 1941. He only recorded 16 songs, but he is said to have been an influence on many notable blues and rock musicians, including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix.

Career

Like many bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta, Petway traveled around as a musician, playing at parties, roadhouses, and other venues available. 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 met them in MS.

“Catfish Blues”/”Rollin’ Stone”

One of Petway’s most influential songs is “Catfish Blues”, which he recorded in 1941. Muddy Waters used the lyrics and style of “Catfish Blues” for his first single “Rollin’ Stone”, the song from which the rock group The Rolling Stones chose their band name. There is debate on whether Petway deserves any credit for the Muddy Waters song, mostly stemming from the fact that blues musicians often borrow lines and verses from each other and often use common symbols and phrases that can’t be traced back to one source. There is even some speculation that Tommy McClennan wrote the version that Petway recorded. Max Haymes has written a well-researched article, “Catfish Blues (Origins of a Blues)” on the topic, available at earlyblues.com. When David “Honeyboy” Edwards, a follower of Petway, was asked if Petway wrote the song, he 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.”

Second verse of “Catfish Blues”

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

First verse of “Rollin’ Stone”

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 

Death/disappearance

There is no record, official or unofficial, of Petway’s death. As such, he may still be alive, though he would be roughly 100 years old. The last record of his public life is a quote from David “Honeyboy” Edwards: “nobody I know heard what become of him.”

Discography

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

Original 78′s (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”
Bluebird B8987 “Boogie Woogie Woman/Hollow Log Blues”
Second Session, Recorded on February 20, 1942
Catalogue # Title
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”
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