ROBERT PETWAY BIOGRAPHY
Robert Petway was an African-American blues singer and guitarist.
Very little is known about Petway. His birthplace is 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. His birth date is guessed at 1908, and the date and even the occurrence of his death is unknown. 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.
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 traveled and performed together. After McClennan had been in Chicago for a few years, Petway traveled north to join him and cut records, as did Georgia’s Frank Edwards who met them in Mississippi.
There is only one known picture, a publicity photo from 1941, of Petway holding a steel-bodied National resonator guitar.
His song, “Catfish Blues,” recorded in 1941, contained virtually the same lyrics as were later recorded by Muddy Waters in his “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”. Max Haymes has written a well-researched article, “Catfish Blues (Origins of a Blues)” on the topic, available at earlyblues.com. 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.”
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
There is no record, official or unofficial, of Petway’s death. As such, he may still be alive, though he would be over 100 years old. 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.
Robert Petway Discography
Petway only recorded two sessions, both for Bluebird Records in Chicago. Original 78’s (in chronological order) First Session, Recorded on March 28, 1941 Catalogue # Title Bluebird B8726 “Rockin’ Chair Blues” / “Let Me Be Your Boss” Bluebird B8756 “Sleepy Woman Blues” / “Don’t Go Down Baby” Bluebird B8786 “My Little Girl” / “Left My Baby Crying” Bluebird B8838 “Catfish Blues” / “Ride ‘Em On Down” Second Session, Recorded on February 20, 1942 Catalogue # Title Bluebird B8987 “Boogie Woogie Woman” / “Hollow Log Blues” Bluebird B9008 “Bertha Lee Blues” / “In The Evening” Bluebird B9036 “My Baby Left Me” / “Cotton Pickin’ Blues” Bluebird unissued “Hard Working Woman” / “Ar’nt Nobody’s Fool”