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Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: 1894blues on June 26, 2011, 01:53:09 PM

Title: Robert Petway
Post by: 1894blues on June 26, 2011, 01:53:09 PM
I was recently reading up on Eddie Taylor and I noticed how both he and others referred to Robert Petway and Charley Patton as major inspirations.  I had heard Petway's version of 'Catfish Blues' but I always lumped him in with Tommy McClennan and never considered how important a figure in the lineage of the blues he is.  Then I noticed Petway had a song about 'Bertha Lee'.  I started to wonder if it was about old Charley's girl, but there just isn't too much info out there.  Considering he inspired Muddy, Honeyboy, Jimi and others you would think there would be something.  Any suggestions?
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Bunker Hill on June 27, 2011, 03:36:38 AM
Then I noticed Petway had a song about 'Bertha Lee'.  I started to wonder if it was about old Charley's girl, but there just isn't too much info out there.
Interesting, can't believe somebody, somewhere, in years gone by won't have speculated in print about this.

In the meantime, if you click on the Robert Petway tag below you will find other posts concerning Petway.
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: jostber on June 27, 2011, 05:13:50 AM
Interesting article on Petway here:

http://www.tdblues.com/?p=1436

Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: JohnLeePimp on June 27, 2011, 12:39:09 PM
Then I noticed Petway had a song about 'Bertha Lee'.  I started to wonder if it was about old Charley's girl, but there just isn't too much info out there.
Interesting, can't believe somebody, somewhere, in years gone by won't have speculated in print about this.

In the meantime, if you click on the Robert Petway tag below you will find other posts concerning Petway.

well... I mentioned it as a joke a while back

http://blindman.15.forumer.com/index.php?act=ST&f=5&t=14057&st=15#entry553304
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: LD50 on June 28, 2011, 10:24:42 AM
Paul Oliver mentioned the idea in his liner notes to Wolf's 1983 LP Robert Petway: Complete Recordings in Chronological Order:

"One can't help wondering if the subject of 'Bertha Lee Blues' -- "you sure been good to me" -- was in fact, Bertha Lee Patton."
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Johnm on June 28, 2011, 10:48:09 AM
Hi 1894blues,
I don't know if you are a player, but if you click on WeeniePedia in the left-hand menu, then click on Musicianship when you're taken there, then click on Guitar, you can find a list which has been compiled of the positions/keys in which Robert Petway played his recorded repertoire.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: jostber on July 04, 2011, 06:41:00 AM
Here is a cite from Honeyboy Edwards on Catfish Blues on the Document Records web site:

Robert Petway made the first recording of Catfish Blues, and theres a good case for believing that he composed it.
'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,' says Honeyboy Edwards who learned the song from Petway in person.


but on this site it says that the song was Tommy McClennan's signature piece. http://www.earlyblues.com/essay_catfish.htm
Any more information on this?

Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: JohnLeePimp on July 04, 2011, 11:24:24 AM
It's probably Patways arrangement... but the earliest version of the lyrics to do with Catfish was in one of Jim Jackson's recordings of Kansas City Blues - Delta bluesman Willie Harris also covered Kansas City with the lyrics in question

... Harris' other songs is about Bullfrogs (which is the name of McClennan's "version" of Catfish blues)

It's more guesswork than academic, but yeah... that's where I think it lead off from

P.S. nobody has come half-close to doing a version on par with Petway's though
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Bunker Hill on July 04, 2011, 12:45:06 PM

... Harris' other songs is about Bullfrogs (which is the name of McClennan's "version" of Catfish blues)
I can hear in my head McClennan singing  Deep Blues Sea a version of Catfish recorded later the same year as Petway. Not at home to check.
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Johnm on July 04, 2011, 12:59:02 PM
Yup, as you had it, Bunker Hill, Tommy McClennan's version of "Catfish" was called "Deep Blue Sea Blues".  I don't believe it suffers by comparison to Petway's version, either, though Petway's is sensational.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Stumblin on July 04, 2011, 03:45:51 PM
I had heard Petway's version of 'Catfish Blues' but I always lumped him in with Tommy McClennan and never considered how important a figure in the lineage of the blues he is.
I suppose this brings us to a couple of questions:
1) What features of the music of those "giants" who died before WWII and of those who had successful working careers either before or during the revivals (or even before and during) have made them such enduring and important figures?
2) Just why is Robert Petway so apparently overlooked & historically well attested, despite still having living acquaintances?
3) Is it that Petway's music did not share the requisite endurance affording qualities as the other "giants" amongst his contemporaries and, not sure if this is the right word, but, successors? If not, in what ways?
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: blueshome on July 05, 2011, 12:17:25 PM
Good questions Andy, but just how much were those we may call a "giant" (referring to "Delta" or downhome artists) today were really thought of as that in their own milieu? We know the names of those lucky enough to be recorded and a few others named be those "rediscovered" in the 60's, but with a few exceptions they may have had little more than local fame or influence, or even just been "hobby" players.

One may assume that McClennan and Petway had reasonable record sales from the number of cuts recorded in a period when country blues was not at the forefront of popular taste (if it ever was), or did they have friends with influence (eg Big Bill).

On the subject of Catfish Blues, I have a recollection of reading somewhere (probably David Evans) that this song was in Tommy Johnson's pre-war repertoire.
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Bunker Hill on July 05, 2011, 12:47:14 PM
Good questions Andy, but just how much were those we may call a "giant" (referring to "Delta" or downhome artists) today were really thought of as that in their own milieu? We know the names of those lucky enough to be recorded and a few others named be those "rediscovered" in the 60's, but with a few exceptions they may have had little more than local fame or influence, or even just been "hobby" players.

One may assume that McClennan and Petway had reasonable record sales from the number of cuts recorded in a period when country blues was not at the forefront of popular taste (if it ever was), or did they have friends with influence (eg Big Bill).

On the subject of Catfish Blues, I have a recollection of reading somewhere (probably David Evans) that this song was in Tommy Johnson's pre-war repertoire.
Phil if you look at the liner notes to the Yazoo compilation Lonesome Road Blues http://www.wirz.de/music/petwafrm.htm there's some discussion of the topic there.

Stefan's discography brings to light the prevalence of early European reissues of Petway's material.
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: blueshome on July 05, 2011, 01:57:31 PM
Written by our very own Mr.Miller. I have the lp and also the Document (I think) lp from the early 80's - just about the last vinyl issued by J.Parth. Remember having it on order at Tower St. when Les Fancourt was there.
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Stumblin on July 05, 2011, 04:10:45 PM
Good questions Andy, but just how much were those we may call a "giant" (referring to "Delta" or downhome artists) today were really thought of as that in their own milieu? We know the names of those lucky enough to be recorded and a few others named be those "rediscovered" in the 60's, but with a few exceptions they may have had little more than local fame or influence, or even just been "hobby" players.
Yeah, I know. Of course you're right. Blues was just one, perhaps minority, strand amongst a whole lot of other popular musics. The survival of some cultural artefacts may not reflect the totality of the past cultural experience etc.
I guess I'm unable to shake off the incomprehension attendant upon the lack of information.
Incidentally, a beer fuelled concatenation of events resulted in me having a gig in Nottingham on Saturday night.
Here's my version of Catfish Blues from Saturday:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLtaCxLCV1s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLtaCxLCV1s).
About halfway through, my shades got sweaty & slipped down my nose, constricting my breathing. There may be a slight rhythmic discrepancy as I push them back up my nose, whilst still attempting to play  ::)
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Johnm on July 05, 2011, 06:17:56 PM
Hi all,
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the extent to which Robert Petway is remembered now is roughly appropriate, given what he did in the studio.  There's really only the one session (two days?), and in that program of tunes, "Catfish" is definitely the odd man out.  All but one of the other tunes are played out of G position in standard tuning and are fundamentally the same song with different lyrics; to be fair, played amazingly well and sung really well, too.  I remember listening to Petway's entire recorded repertoire in one sitting recently and coming away feeling that for a guy who could play and sing so well, he had almost no variety in his repertoire.  The excitement that one listen to "Bertha Lee" provides palls reasonably quickly for me when I hear the same licks and vocal approach recycled over and over again on his other numbers.  This brings to mind an observation O'Muck made here once to the effect, I think, that anyone's work suffers when it is experienced unrelievedly.  It is one reason anthologies in this style make for much better listening than do "Complete Works" type CDs.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: LD50 on July 05, 2011, 08:52:02 PM
Hi all,
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the extent to which Robert Petway is remembered now is roughly appropriate, given what he did in the studio.  There's really only the one session (two days?), and in that program of tunes, "Catfish" is definitely the odd man out.  All but one of the other tunes are played out of G position in standard tuning and are fundamentally the same song with different lyrics; to be fair, played amazingly well and sung really well, too.  I remember listening to Petway's entire recorded repertoire in one sitting recently and coming away feeling that for a guy who could play and sing so well, he had almost no variety in his repertoire.  The excitement that one listen to "Bertha Lee" provides palls reasonably quickly for me when I hear the same licks and vocal approach recycled over and over again on his other numbers.  This brings to mind an observation O'Muck made here once to the effect, I think, that anyone's work suffers when it is experienced unrelievedly.  It is one reason anthologies in this style make for much better listening than do "Complete Works" type CDs.
All best,
Johnm

I dunno, 'Boogie Woogie Woman', his duet with Tommy McClennan, is pretty damn hot:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X99Rb4oj4PU

(probably my 2nd favorite Petway cut.)

'Rocking Chair Blues' also has a really interesting guitar solo.
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Michael Cardenas on July 07, 2011, 11:12:01 AM
Bertha Lee always does it for me, he's bangin' on it puts me in the mind of Garfield Akers. I dig Petway because he and Kokomo Arnold give me an idea of what the down-home approach was still like going into the 40's. For lack of a better desciption there is a hyper-traditional sound going on which I get the feeling has nothing to do with nostalgia, but comes from possible mindset saying, "This is how we know, this is how you do it and there is no other way."
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: jostber on July 09, 2011, 01:47:25 AM
An old link, but there are some interesting stories on McClennan and Petway for those who have not seen it:

http://www.cascadeblues.org/History/TommyMcClennan.htm

Title: Robert Petway
Post by: Pontius2000 on March 15, 2017, 11:20:36 AM
I don't see how Petway isn't more "famous" than what he is. I understand why he wasn't more popular at the time since his style in 1941 may have seemed "old fashioned", but I don't understand how he hasn't achieved "legendary" status.

We have the "rediscovered legends of the 60s" like John Hurt, Skip James, Son House, Bukka White, etc.

Then we have the "legends of mythical proportions" like Patton, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, etc.

It would seem that Petway would belong in that latter group, but he never gets mentioned amongst them. He had one landmark song, "Catfish Blues", much like many of the other "legends". All his songs were, to my untrained ears, very technically sound. what I mean, lots of people seem to place on Robert Johnson godlike guitar skills. to my ears, Johnson's songs don't sound any more musically proficient than Petway's. And then, there is just as much "mystery" surrounding him, as very little known about him before his recordings or his fate afterwards. In fact, there is probably MORE known about Robert Johnson than about Robert Petway.

So why is it that he seems to be overlooked and not placed on the same pedestal as others?

As far as what happened to him later in life. What I've read is that most people seem to think he went to Chicago and then disappeared off the face of the earth. Have any blues researchers considered that at "approximately" 34 years old in 1941, Petway would've been prime age to have been drafted or volunteered for WWII? This may have even been desirable if he had no other skills but farming and through the military, could've ended up anywhere and not just Chicago.
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Johnm on March 15, 2017, 11:38:07 AM
Hi,
I merged the new post on Robert Petway with a pre-existing thread that raises many of the same issues.  I would say the biggest things going against Robert Petway in terms of achieving more recognition are:
   * Lack of variety in his recorded repertoire.  Although everything he did was very expertly played and sung, the vast majority of his songs share the same accompaniment, melody, and groove and are done at the same tempo.  Like many or most players, he wears better in small doses, unless you're already a huge fan and never tire of that accompaniment.
   * Lack of some writer to mythologize him.  This might be a more significant lack in terms of Petway's ever receiving much recognition.  Robert Johnson has all of the "crossroads" stuff, selling his soul to the devil, blah, blah, blah, which resonates with a lot of people and generates interest in him, almost independently of what he did musically.  Petway may also be hurt, in terms of getting recognition, by being closest musically to Tommy McClennan, who is probably even more under-rated and inadequately recognized than Petway.  Tommy McClennan, to my ears at least, had much more variety than Petway (though he didn't play as fast or clean), and was a much more exciting and expressive singer.

Who knows?  New information on Petway may surface yet, but it seems likely he'll remain a musician's musician rather than achieving more mainstream acclaim.

all best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Pontius2000 on March 15, 2017, 12:12:40 PM
Hi,
I merged the new post on Robert Petway with a pre-existing thread that raises many of the same issues.  I would say the biggest things going against Robert Petway in terms of achieving more recognition are:
   * Lack of variety in his recorded repertoire.  Although everything he did was very expertly played and sung, the vast majority of his songs share the same accompaniment, melody, and groove and are done at the same tempo.  Like many or most players, he wears better in small doses, unless you're already a huge fan and never tire of that accompaniment.
   * Lack of some writer to mythologize him.  This might be a more significant lack in terms of Petway's ever receiving much recognition.  Robert Johnson has all of the "crossroads" stuff, selling his soul to the devil, blah, blah, blah, which resonates with a lot of people and generates interest in him, almost independently of what he did musically.  Petway may also be hurt, in terms of getting recognition, by being closest musically to Tommy McClennan, who is probably even more under-rated and inadequately recognized than Petway.  Tommy McClennan, to my ears at least, had much more variety than Petway (though he didn't play as fast or clean), and was a much more exciting and expressive singer.

Who knows?  New information on Petway may surface yet, but it seems likely he'll remain a musician's musician rather than achieving more mainstream acclaim.

all best,
Johnm

You are the John Miller from Stefan Grossman's GW right? Ever considered doing a Petway/McClennon DVD?
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Johnm on March 15, 2017, 12:56:48 PM
My guess is that Stefan would consider the demand for such a lesson to be too small for it to be economically feasible.  I would  prefer to do transcriptions and lessons on a few songs, and sell the lessons from my website, rather than do a whole DVD's worth, too.  I think with Robert Petway, "Catfish" and one or two of the G tunes would be plenty.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: mtzionmemorialfund on March 15, 2017, 03:27:01 PM

Who knows?  New information on Petway may surface yet, but it seems likely he'll remain a musician's musician rather than achieving more mainstream acclaim.

all best,
Johnm

Robert (Bert) Petway may have worked on the road crew in Yazoo County, Mississippi in the mid-1930s...
Title: Re: Robert Petway
Post by: Bunker Hill on March 15, 2017, 10:37:30 PM
My guess is that Stefan would consider the demand for such a lesson to be too small for it to be economically feasible.  I would  prefer to do transcriptions and lessons on a few songs, and sell the lessons from my website, rather than do a whole DVD's worth, too.  I think with Robert Petway, "Catfish" and one or two of the G tunes would be plenty.
All best,
Johnm

For what it's worth the huge Bob Eagle and Eric S. LeBlanc tome (2013) contains the following entries:

page 122 Robert Petway (apparently n?e Robert Pettiway) (v/g) (apparently Itta Bena, Leflore County, about 1902?unknown location, after 1942).

page 272 The "Robert E. Petway" who died on May 30, 1978, Chicago, age 59, was born in Tennessee and married in Chicago in 1935, and was not in Mississippi in about 1940.)

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