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Author Topic: SOTM December 2019, Catfish Blues  (Read 10500 times)

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binsoe

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SOTM December 2019, Catfish Blues
« on: January 07, 2005, 03:02:33 PM »




I was interested to see that Robert Petway's "Catfish Blues" was the most requested tune the other day. This piece shows clearly how something can be greater than the sum of its parts. Catfish has been one of my favourites since I first heard it, yet it lacks a lot of the characteristics described when people try to put the blues under a microscope. The accompaniment isn't played brilliantly on some fancy guitar which cost thousands of dollars. No, it's just a home-made bass, though played with a driving, hypnotic beat. The words are nothing special - partly generic, partly unintelligible. Petway never took an elocution lesson, but the home-made bass, his accent and the timbre of his voice tie music and words together into something extraordinary. 
« Last Edit: December 25, 2019, 06:43:41 AM by Johnm »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2005, 03:28:03 PM »
Hey binsoe,
Welcome to Weenie Campbell.
So tell me about this home made bass. I was under the impression that Petway recorded with a Sears (National made) Duolian, which he was photographed with. (It has five diamond patterns on the coverplate as opposed to nine on a regular National) His friend Tommy McClennan was also reported to have recorded some with this instrument. But I haven't seen any actual discography (i.e. BGD&R). I guess I always assumed he was strumming the bass notes and not much else. I must give it another listen. To me, what really makes the song exciting is his strong vocal quality. Something those of us who are more guitar-centric don't always consider. This is definitely on my "must learn" list (along with some TMcC). Both these guys I guess are looked upon as pretty slap-dash guitar players, but they have a really driving style that could really work in a set with other, shall I say, more laconic numbers. And, hey, I can do slap-dash.<G> But to get back to my original guestion, I have a real interest in handmade instruments, jugs, washboards and such. Thanks.
All for now.
John C.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2005, 03:42:30 PM by waxwing »
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Offline Montgomery

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2005, 03:54:28 PM »
I seriously doubt he's playing with a home made bass.  I think he's using a National, which actually IS a thousand dollar fancy guitar today  (and was still fairly expensive in Petway's day).  But I get your point that the guitar he used is not essential to the effectiveness of the recording.  I think "Catfish" is a great piece, but there are many great blues recordings that use cheap guitars, are largely unintellegible lyrically, or have unimpressive lyrics.  I think Catfish's brilliance rests mostly in its rhythmic drive (both vocally and lyrically), impassioned singing and a very catchy melody. 

Online Slack

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2005, 04:15:09 PM »
It is interesting that Petway's 'Catfish Blues' is the most requested - but I suppose this is due in part to curious folks who may not be familiar with it --  clicking the number one song.    In any case, it is a fine and deserving tune to hold the number 1 position.

I think he is playing his national too -- with a collapsed cone.  Ron Phillips, resonator builder extraordanaire, says he can hear the "quack" of a collapsed cone.  Which makes sense to me because with all the clatter of string noise  it sounds like the strings are pretty much laying on the fretboard.  It also sounds to me like he may be flat picking the piece - it is so percusive that it is hard for me to imagine all that percussion coming from anything but a flatpcik -- but it's not something I'd bet on. 

cheers,
slack

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2005, 04:54:54 PM »
I think it's all NotRevGary. Gary, buy the damn CD!  ;D

binsoe

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2005, 04:46:04 PM »
I stand corrected about the home-made bass. I think that's a piece of information I swallowed uncritically from some sleeve notes. That's how wrong information gets about! Anyway, it's the drive and the passion that makes it so good. 

Offline Richard

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2005, 09:38:26 AM »
Catfish - according to GDR it's our old friend Alfred Elkins on imb which equals "tub-bass"

The McClennan recordings have more variety as they have bass players -

Unknown
Joe McCoy on imb
Ransom Knowling on s\bass.

Any help?
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline NotRevGDavis

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2005, 08:13:43 AM »
I think it's all NotRevGary. Gary, buy the damn CD!? ;D

Hey now I have 3 CD's?with Catfish!

OK I'm busted I request it sometimes (2-5 times a week).
« Last Edit: April 18, 2005, 01:52:05 PM by Johnm »
Got the name, still workin' on the licks!

Online Johnm

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #8 on: March 21, 2005, 04:45:26 PM »
Hi all,
You know, I think "Catfish" is really a mysterious tune.  It has been recorded so many times.  I can think of versions by Tommy McClennan, Robert Petway, Skip James, K.C. Douglas, Dr. Ross, Pink Anderson, and Baby Tate.  What surprises me most is the two South Carolina guys having versions of it.  Does anybody know if Lightnin' Hopkins or John Lee Hooker recorded it or had a hit with it, or maybe Jimmy Reed?  Whenever a tune crosses regional boundaries like that, I always suspect that a popular recording artist had a hit with it.  I found this to be the case with "Hobo Blues", a spooky tune in Spanish that I kept hearing different people do; come to find out that John Lee Hooker had a hit with it (though he may have gotten it elsewhere, too).  Anybody know of other versions of "Catfish" out there?







All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 25, 2019, 06:35:05 AM by Johnm »

Online Slack

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #9 on: March 21, 2005, 05:37:54 PM »
I think my second favorite version is Teddy Williams's - which is on Arhoolie's 'Blow My Blues Away - Vol 1" (a great CD, btw).  I think it is very similar to Robert Petway's version and after just having listened to it again - may hold some keys to how Petway played his version.  Williams get's that same kind of percusive groove going as Petway.  I've always suspected Petway was flat picking - but after hearing Williams get a similar percussive effect with no apparent flat pick click - I have grave doubts.  :)



In any case, does anyone know anything about Teddy Williams?  His other cut on the Arhoolie CD is "Down Home Blues", but I don;t think it's not nearly as strong as "Catfish Blues".

Cheers,
slack
« Last Edit: December 25, 2019, 06:07:58 AM by Johnm »

Online Slack

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #10 on: March 21, 2005, 06:05:54 PM »
Well, here is a big write up by Max Haymes on the origins or speculative origins of Catfish Blues - ain't the internet amazing.  It lists a version by Robert Curtis Smith (I'd like to hear that - hmm, I've got a RC Smith CD around here somewhere)... also mentioned is Muddy Waters.  Pretty analytical article, if you get my drift  - but interesting.

http://www.earlyblues.com/essay_catfish.htm




cheers,
« Last Edit: December 25, 2019, 06:15:11 AM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #11 on: March 27, 2005, 09:47:00 AM »
I can think of versions by Tommy McClennan, Robert Petway, Skip James, K.C. Douglas, Dr. Ross, Pink Anderson, and Baby Tate.? What surprises me most is the two South Carolina guys having versions of it.?

Baby Tate's version is called Baby, I'm Going, and I really like it a lot. People interested in hearing it can request it one the Juke. It is surprising to see it pop up here, although he does a couple other more Delta-sounding tunes (My Baby Don't Treat Me Kind) as well.

« Last Edit: December 25, 2019, 06:09:24 AM by Johnm »

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #12 on: March 27, 2005, 10:56:55 AM »
Hi Andrew,
Your post made me get out and listen to the Baby Tate version, and you're right, it is great.  Then I listened to the Pink Anderson version (called "Baby I'm Going Away") from Carolina Bluesman, Vol. 1.  Allowing for differences of touch, etc., the two versions are about as close to each other as you will ever hear two musicians of that generation be when playing the same song.  It would make plausible the suggestion you made on the Baby Tate thread that Pink got his version from Baby Tate (or vice versa). After looking at the article that John D. provided the link to, it seems like Lightnin' Hopkins's version was recorded too late to have influenced Baby Tate and Pink.  Are there any Blind Boy Fuller completists out there who know if he ever recorded "Catfish"?  It seems just as possible that both Pink And Baby Tate were basing their versions on the version of somebody else altogether, and Fuller was certainly copied a lot.




All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 25, 2019, 06:10:36 AM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2005, 12:58:37 PM »
Hi John - I have all Fuller's material and I cannot recall any version of Catfish in there. Fuller does occasionally come up with a surprising cover - Sleepy John Estes' Airplane Blues for instance. From what I gather in Bastin's Red River Blues, Tate knew quite a lot of musicians (albeit most were decidedly East Coast), so it could have come from hanging with some Delta types. Pure, total speculation of course.

Online Johnm

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Re: Catfish
« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2007, 10:50:53 AM »
Hi all,
John D. alluded to a version of "Catfish" by Teddy Williams earlier in this thread that appeared on an old Arhoolie anthology, and wondered if anyone knew anything more about Teddy Williams.  I don't, except that in the most recent Roots & Rhythm newsletter that I received yesterday, it announced the release of an entire CD on Fat Possum by Teddy Williams, recorded by George Mitchell in 1967 or 1968.  The CD is part of a budget release series by Fat Possum of five or six CDs worth of recordings made by George Mitchell.  The CDs sell for $8.95 or $9.95, I think, and are described as having very no-frills packaging and liner notes.  If these CDs are anything like the caliber of the earlier George Mitchell recordings released on Fat Possum of Furry Lewis, Joe Calicott, R.L. Burnside, Fred McDowell and Johnny Woods, J. W. Warren and Jimmy Lee Williams they will probably be "must have" purchases for serious fans of Post-War Country Blues.
All best,
Johnm 

 


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