Robert Petway

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Robert Petway (October 18, 1907 – May 1978) was an African-American

blues singer and guitarist.

 

Very little is known about Robert Petway. His birthplace is usually 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,

although some recent research suggests that Petway may have been born at

Gee's Bend, Alabama. As per his Social Security registration, he was born in

1907 and the exact 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 Mississippi.

 

"Catfish Blues"

 

One of Petway's most influential songs is "Catfish Blues", which he recorded in 1941. Amongst many other reworked versions, Muddy Waters used

the arrangement and lyrics of "Catfish Blues" for his single "Rollin' Stone", the song from which the rock group The Rolling Stones chose their band

name. The composition credit given to Petway is based entirely on the recording date of his version of the song; however it would be impossible to

evidence that song as the conclusive and original source. There is speculation that Tommy McClennan had actually written the song, as he himself

recorded it as "Deep Blues Sea". 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. In his autobiography David Honeyboy

Edwards also remembers a delta blues guitarist he met called Tom Toy, who came from Leland, Mississippi. Apparently Toy was well-known locally

for his version of Catfish Blues. Sadly, though, Toy was never recorded and he is forgotten today. Nothing is known about him and it is also

uncertain when exactly Tom Toy was active.

 

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. The last record of his public life is a quote from Honeyboy Edwards: "nobody I know

heard what become of him. Blues researcher Jason Rewald has suggested, on the basis of social security records, that Petway may in fact have

been born in Gee's Bend, Alabama on October 18, 1907, and died in Chicago on May 30, 1978. In his autobiography David Honeyboy Edwards

actually tells that he heard that Petway might have moved to Chicago, but living there himself Honeyboy never actually met him in Chicago.

 

 

The Forum post is edited by bninna Aug 12 '15
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