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I went to the graveyard just to dig me up some gold.. - Allen Brothers, Maybe Next Week Sometime, 1930

Author Topic: Peetie Wheatstraw  (Read 3637 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 »
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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

How's this book?




Offline dj

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #15 on: March 28, 2008, 03:23:24 PM »
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How's this book?

It's short - 116 pages in my edition - but then all the hard facts we know about Peetie Wheatstraw's life would fit on about 3 pages.  There's a lot of information on what St. Louis and East St. Louis were like in Wheatstraw's day, and a lot of lyric transcription and analysis.  I'm not sure I agree with all the biographical conclusions Garon draws from Wheatstraw's lyrics, but the book is well written, easy to read, and when you get done you'll know all there is to know about Peetie Wheatstraw. 

It's illustrated and indexed, with a bibliography and discography.  And it comes with a CD of Wheatstraw's music.  At least it did in 2003 when I bought my copy.
   

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #16 on: March 28, 2008, 06:47:09 PM »
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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'".   

There's a chapter in Sam Charters' The Country Blues that talks about this issue. The chapter title is The Bluebird Beat and talks about the sound and bands being somewhat interchangeable at Bluebird, with a few exceptions like solo players such as Tommy McClennan. I find stuff like Tampa Red or Washboard Sam from this period quite enjoyable, but there's no question that this is music moving closer to the assembly line and best taken in small doses. I would imagine this is what Nick Perls would have been joking about.

Who knows what Charley Patton's entire output would be like if he'd survived or been successful enough to fill up 15 volumes on Document.


Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #17 on: March 29, 2008, 12:20:33 AM »
It's short - 116 pages in my edition - but then all the hard facts we know about Peetie Wheatstraw's life would fit on about 3 pages.  There's a lot of information on what St. Louis and East St. Louis were like in Wheatstraw's day, and a lot of lyric transcription and analysis. I'm not sure I agree with all the biographical conclusions Garon draws from Wheatstraw's lyrics, but the book is well written, easy to read, and when you get done you'll know all there is to know about Peetie Wheatstraw. 

It's illustrated and indexed, with a bibliography and discography.  And it comes with a CD of Wheatstraw's music.  At least it did in 2003 when I bought my copy.
I think that's a fair appraisal but perhaps it should be born in mind that when first published in 1970 it told us more than we ever knew at the then, having only Paul Oliver's five page appreciation in a 1959 Jazz Monthly as a oint of reference! The CD contains a previously unknown Harmon Ray track which, I guess, has probably now found its way on to other releases.

I've only own the cloth edition which has gold leaf lettering and similar gold leaf reproduction of Bluebird B545. Having seen the cover of the paperback I'm pleased I do. Chacun a son gout.  ;D

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #18 on: March 29, 2008, 03:28:51 AM »
I have to admit that this isn't nearly as eye catching as the paperback, even taking into account the deficiencies of my ancient scanning software.
(click image to zoom)


« Last Edit: March 29, 2008, 03:30:03 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline dj

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #19 on: March 29, 2008, 04:28:59 AM »
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perhaps it should be born in mind that when first published in 1970 it told us more than we ever knew at the time

Absolutely.  I didn't mean to belittle the book at all.  It's well worth reading, and it's a minor miracle that it's been republished and is still in print.
 

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #20 on: March 29, 2008, 01:52:27 PM »
There's a chapter in Sam Charters' The Country Blues that talks about this issue. The chapter title is The Bluebird Beat and talks about the sound and bands being somewhat interchangeable at Bluebird, with a few exceptions like solo players such as Tommy McClennan. I find stuff like Tampa Red or Washboard Sam from this period quite enjoyable, but there's no question that this is music moving closer to the assembly line and best taken in small doses.
Quite so and all down to a Lester Melrose formula which he was proud of. This has been a topic of discussion here previously. See Music Scouts tag.

Offline dj

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #21 on: March 29, 2008, 04:04:16 PM »
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There's a chapter in Sam Charters' The Country Blues that talks about this issue. The chapter title is The Bluebird Beat...

I've alluded to this in other posts, but since it's been mentioned here, I'll go on record as saying that the more I listen to the music that Charters was referring to, the more I think that that was one of the most unfortunate chapters in the history of blues scholarship as it kept foolish people (namely me) from listening to and appreciating some very good music for far too many years.

Online Johnm

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Re: Peetie Wheatstraw
« Reply #22 on: March 30, 2008, 10:10:06 AM »
Hi all,
At the instigation of this thread, I've been going back and listening to individual performances by Peetie Wheatstraw in the context of anthologies where he is one of many musicians featured, and . . . he comes off really well in these settings.  On an old Origin Jazz Library St. Louis anthology, he does "Sleepless Night Blues", accompanying himself on guitar, and it is sensational, in a class with the early Henry Townsend and J.D. Short titles.  Peetie was also a strong pianist, though not in a class with people like Roosevelt Sykes, Henry Brown and Wesley Wallace in terms of sheer technique.  Wheatstraw's accompaniment of Teddy Darby on Darby's "Pokino Blues", discussed in detail in the Teddy Darby Lyrics thread, is unforgettable. 

I think that to the extent that people get sick of Peetie Wheatstraw, they just get sick of him singing, "Oooo well, well" halfway through his taglines.  As vocal mannerisms go, I don't find it nearly as objectionable as Bob Wills' incessant simpering "Ah, hah", plastered all over every Texas Playboys recording.  It's bad enough on records, but can you imagine being in the band and hearing that all night long at every gig?  Yecch.
All best,
Johnm

 


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