365 Days of Album Recommendations – March 11

Robert Petway – Catfish Blues


Robert Petway is the great mystery man of Country Blues. He reasonably certainly contributed on of the most important songs in this whole history of this music—Çatfish Blues—and yet virtually nothing is known about him. He lived in Mississippi, and there is one picture of him in overalls with a National, but that’s about it.

One thing I can offer is that Petway pretty clearly managed to hear Bukka White’s version of Shake ‘Em On Down that had been recorded in 1937, because Petway’s song Ride ‘Em Down pretty much IS the same song, and it was recorded in ’41, so Bukka came first.

Petway’s a pretty dynamite performer. He’s got a great raspy voice, and a muscular style of guitar playing that sounds a lot like Blind Boy Fuller on the straighter blues performances.

Which brings us to Catfish Blues. It’s really a shame that this version of the tune got largely absorbed by Muddy Waters’ take on the tune, cuz Petway’s is really weird and wonderful and funky and fully cool. I think it’s this version that influence Willie Doss’ rendition at Newport, which is the one I got my version from. It’s just a really straight up weird arrangement, but I mean it, man, it’s SO funky. And his voice is sandpaper fine …

Mainly, this whole collection is raw excellence in sonic action, and you should check it out. Petway only recorded 14 songs in his life, all for Bluebird Records. They’re legit Country Blues history. The music of the mystery man.

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