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You could say anything at those Saturday night balls... they'd like to hear it, I don't care how dirty you made it - Son House, quoted in The Nasty Blues

Author Topic: Peetie Wheatstraw  (Read 3636 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Peetie Wheatstraw
« on: March 27, 2008, 07:01:37 PM »
OK, so dozens of his songs begin with the same riff.  :D But there's been very little talk of Peetie Wheatstraw on the forum, and I've been enjoying his music quite a bit lately. He's a good singer with interesting lyrics, and on the tracks where he plays guitar, you get another nice St. Louis style player. I have been a Peetie denier in the past. No more. You probably don't want to listen to his complete recorded works all together.  :D But listening to individual songs is usually a pleasure.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2008, 07:45:26 PM »
Andrew:
I agree 100%. I have the Document Vol. 1 CD and one definitely wants to mix things up a bit when listening to good old Peetie. I guess that's why they build CD players with a shuffle mode.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2008, 12:25:48 AM »
You probably don't want to listen to his complete recorded works all together.  :D But listening to individual songs is usually a pleasure.
Exactly it has been commented upon many times before that the original purchasers acquired one 78 at a time as and when the companies issued them. PW must have been popular otherwise they wouldn't have spent so much time recording him. Paul Garon updated his PW book in 2003 and is well worth a read - there's a CD with it too.

Cooljack

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2008, 01:43:14 AM »
yeah that riff he uses at the start is more or less his signature piece, i've noticed that on some songs there are little variations of the first few seconds often depending on his accompanyment. I don't know what my favorate song by him would be, but one of my favorates is on volume 3 called "No Good Woman (Fighting Blues)" in which he sings with someone else, and theres a nice little staged monologe at the start. Also his rious sogns which use the "Sitting on top of the world" melody are always enjoyable to listen to. At first I wasen't too keen on his later stuff with which he performs with some kind of jazz band, but i've come to like it more than I used too and I can see that their is alot more variation in this later work, especially with instruments it would seem. It sounds on a few songs like there is an electric guitar playing.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2008, 01:48:31 AM by Cooljack »

Offline jostber

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2008, 02:29:02 AM »
He was Robert Pete Williams' favourite too.


Offline dj

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2008, 03:23:28 AM »
Quote
OK, so dozens of his songs begin with the same riff.

The Ink Spots were the same way - a majority of their recordings during their heyday opened with an identical guitar riff.  I've read somewhere, possibly in Paul Garon's Wheatstraw book, but possibly in an article on the Ink Spots, that there was a belief among record companies in the 30s that it was good for an artist to start a song with a signature riff, as it would grab the attention of a casual listener by signaling "here's a new recording by a familiar artist".

I agree with you about Wheatstraw, Andrew.  I've been listening to the St Louis playlist on my iTunes for the last few days (706 songs, 1.4 days of music!), and both Wheatstraw and Walter Davis shine in a setting like that, where they make up a good proportion of the music but are well interspersed with other music.
     

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2008, 10:35:39 AM »
I agree with you about Wheatstraw, Andrew.  I've been listening to the St Louis playlist on my iTunes for the last few days (706 songs, 1.4 days of music!), and both Wheatstraw and Walter Davis shine in a setting like that, where they make up a good proportion of the music but are well interspersed with other music.
I own everything recorded by PW, WD and Curtis Jones who 40 years ago were deemed by certain contributors/readers of Blues Unlimited as the "most boring" prewar blues artists. What follows are the closing paragraphs of Garon's Wheatstraw book:

The chief Peetie Wheatstraw hater might be the late Nick Perls, founder of Yazoo records, who is credited with saying, only half jokingly, that Peetie Wheatstraw "single-handedly ruined blues singing." What did Perls mean by this sweeping denunciation? That the advent of Peetie heralded the demise of all the great rough-voiced country blues guitarists of the 1920s and their style of playing? No more Charlie Patton, Son House, Tommy Johnson, or Ishman Bracey. Memphis Minnie lived on, but she did so with pianos, drums, and horns, not with solo acoustic guitars. So Robert Johnson and Bukka White notwithstanding, Peetie ruined everything!

This notion is an interesting one, beyond its enshrinement as the ultimate rural acoustic guitar elitism. The Wheatstraw style was a smooth, citified style that did seem to dominate the blues in the 1930s, and Wheatstraw was very influential, as we have seen. On the other hand, Peetie was one of many popularizers of a style of singing that was made fashionable by Leroy Carr in 1928. Carr's How Long, How Long, Blues probably sold more copies than any record ever made by Peetie, and he introduced his style several years before Peetie every made a record. Indeed, Carr and Blackwell had recorded dozens of songs for Vocalion before Peetie made his debut on that label in 1930.

The style Perls identified so closely with Peetie was shared, throughout the thirties, with considerably less excitement, by Bumble Bee Slim and Little Bill Gaither and they had lengthy careers, especially the former who recorded in the LP era. Walter Davis, a fairly urbanized piano player and somewhat bland singer and a friend of Wheatstraw's, began recording before Peetie and continued to record well after Peetie's death.

This was the style of the era, and Peetie could well have been it's most popular exponent, but if this is the case, he should be judged by the majesty of his own performances, not the intensity of one's mourning for an age gone by.

Offline dj

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2008, 11:14:30 AM »
Good quote from Garon, BH.  I own the same edition of the Peetie Wheatstraw book, and had forgotten that.  (What do you use for a memory tonic?)

At first I was a bit taken aback by reading someone describe Wheatstraw's style as smooth and citified, as I think of his singing as a lot more raw that Carr's or Gaither's.  But then I put on "Big Apple Blues", recorded in New York City in 1940, with Wheatstraw backed by a bunch of good jazz players:  Jonah Jones on trumpet, Lil Armstrong on piano, and Sid Catlett on drums, and he really does sound like he'd go over well in some upscale nightclub.

On the other hand, team him up with Kokomo Arnold, as on "Meat Cutter Blues", and he sounds like he could be singing in a juke where Robert Johnson or Booker White had played the night before.

Which just goes to show that there's a lot of depth to Peetie Wheatstraw if you're just patient and listen a bit.   

Offline dj

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2008, 11:27:08 AM »
Quote
"No Good Woman (Fighting Blues)" in which he sings with someone else, and theres a nice little staged monologue at the start

Since he's mentioned in Bunker Hill's excerpt from Paul Garon's book, the other vocalist on "No Good Woman" is Bumble Bee Slim.

Offline dj

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2008, 11:30:31 AM »
Sorry, I seem to be monopolizing this thread lately, but I'm listening to Peetie Wheatstraw singing "Froggie Blues", which contains the line "Now if you feel froggie and want to hop my girl..."  Now there's an expression you just don't hear anymore.   :)   

Offline CF

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2008, 11:31:04 AM »
I have very little Wheatstraw which sounds like that could be a good thing but I've always found his singing especially entertaining & strong. I really like his 'Shack Bully Stomp':

I used to play it slow but now I play it fast
I used to play it slow but now I play it fast
Just to see the women shake their yas-yas-yas!
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Online Johnm

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #11 on: March 28, 2008, 11:53:33 AM »
Hi all,
I think one of the reasons the Pop blues recording artists of the '30s have suffered in crtical esteem in the post-60s world is that they were recorded so prolifically (due to their popularity) that their mannerisms begin to grate when their work is listened to as a unit, whereas as Bunker Hill pointed out, when the records were originally released, they were heard one at a time, and the stylistic tics helped identify the artist's work in a good way for most listeners, by all accounts.  It's kind of tough to penalize the artists too much when you realize that all the record companies wanted to do was to keep re-mining whatever musical vein had recently yielded a hit record.
all best,
Johnm 

Offline Stuart

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #12 on: March 28, 2008, 01:17:11 PM »
I agree with Johnm on this point. One thing to bear in mind is that the Document CDs, which make no secret about being "Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order," are not recorded, sequenced and produced in the way that modern LPs or CDs are. Compare the Documents CDs with the way that Yazoo packages their offerings. One can easily imagine that a contemporary artist could release a real snoozer if s/he consciously recorded and sequenced the material with that goal in mind. So maybe we should not be overly harsh on PW, or any other musician of the era, for that matter. The context of the times was different and the purpose of the recording sessions was to record material that would be released as singles over a period of time--not an album. I doubt that anyone at the time ever thought of releasing the 22 cuts that are on the Document PW Vol. 1 CD as a package so that they could be listened to in order, from beginning to end, in one sitting.

Offline dj

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #13 on: March 28, 2008, 01:57:55 PM »
Quote
It's kind of tough to penalize the artists too much when you realize that all the record companies wanted to do was to keep re-mining whatever musical vein had recently yielded a hit record.

At least some of the artists felt frustrated by what they perceived as the record companies' straight jackets.  To quote Jerry Zolten's notes to Volume 8 in Document's Bumble Bee Slim series, Slim "walked out on his Chicago recording base because he was tired of the same old approach to production...  'Each time I go to the studio I have a piano player and a guitar player.Piano and guitar, piano and guitar, you hear one number, you hear them all'".   

Offline jostber

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #14 on: March 28, 2008, 02:59:46 PM »
Sorry, I seem to be monopolizing this thread lately, but I'm listening to Peetie Wheatstraw singing "Froggie Blues", which contains the line "Now if you feel froggie and want to hop my girl..."  Now there's an expression you just don't hear anymore.   :)   

That's a hot line, I like it!  :D

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