Robert Petway

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Robert Petway
Robert Petway.jpg
The only known photograph of Petway (c. 1941)
Background information
BornOctober 18, 1907[dubious ][1]
possibly Gee's Bend, Alabama, United States[1] or
Itta Bena, Mississippi, U.S.[2]
DiedMay 1978[dubious ][1]
possibly Chicago, Illinois, United States
Delta blues
LabelsBluebird Records
Associated actsTommy McClennan

Robert Petway (possibly October 18, 1907 – May 1978)[dubious ][3] was an African-American blues singer and guitarist. He recorded only 16 songs, but it has been said that he was an influence on many notable blues and rock musicians, including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix. There is only one known picture of Petway, a publicity photo from 1941.

Uncertainties over birth and death[edit]

Little is known about Petway. It has been speculated that he was born at or near the J.F. Sligh Farm, near Yazoo City, Mississippi, the birthplace of his close friend and fellow bluesman Tommy McClennan. Research by Jason Rewald suggests that Petway may have been born at Gee's Bend, Alabama.[1] His name at birth may have been spelled Pettway[1] or Pettiway.[2] However, researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc suggest that the person who married in Chicago and died there in 1978, aged 59, is unlikely to be the Petway who was a musician in Mississippi in 1940.[2] According to his Social Security registration, he may have been born in 1907, though Eagle and LeBlanc suggest around 1902.[2] The date and cause of his death are unknown.


Like many bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta, Petway traveled as a musician, playing at parties, roadhouses, and other venues. Petway and McClennan often travelled and performed together. After McClennan had been in Chicago for a few years, Petway travelled north to join him and cut records, as did Georgia's Frank Edwards, who had met them in Mississippi.

"Catfish Blues"[edit]

Petway recorded the song "Catfish Blues" in 1941. Among many other musicians who played variations of the song, Muddy Waters used the arrangement and lyrics of "Catfish Blues" for his song "Rollin' Stone" (the song from which the Rolling Stones took their name). The composition credit given to Petway is based entirely on the recording date of his version of the song, but it cannot establish that his version was the original and the source of later versions. There is speculation that Tommy McClennan wrote the song, as he himself recorded it as "Deep Blues Sea". David "Honeyboy" Edwards (a follower of Petway's), asked if Petway wrote the song, 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."[4] In his autobiography, Edwards also remembered the Delta blues guitarist Tom Toy, from Leland, Mississippi, who apparently was well known locally for his version of "Catfish Blues". Toy never recorded.

The second verse of Petway's "Catfish Blues" is as follows:

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[5]

The first verse of Muddy Waters's "Rollin' Stone" has similar lyrics:

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 [6]

Disappearance and death[edit]

There is no record, official or unofficial, of Petway's death. The last record of his public life is a quote from Honeyboy Edwards: "nobody I know heard what become of him."[7] The blues researcher Jason Rewald has suggested, on the basis of Social Security records, that Petway may have died in Chicago on May 30, 1978,[1] but this has been contested by Eagle and LeBlanc.[2] In his autobiography, Edwards stated that he had heard that Petway may have moved to Chicago, where Edwards himself lived, but that he never met him there.


Petway only recorded two sessions,[7][8] both for Bluebird Records in Chicago.

Original 78s (in chronological order)[edit]

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"


  1. ^ a b c d e f Jason Rewald (1907-10-18). "The Disappearance of Robert Petway: A New Theory". American Blues Scene Magazine. Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  2. ^ a b c d e Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. pp. 188, 447. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  3. ^ "Robert Petway (1907–1978) | Social Security Death Index | Free Family History Records". Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  4. ^ "Document Records Blues – 5000 Series". Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  5. ^ [1] Archived September 5, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ [2] Archived September 5, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ a b "Mississippi Blues Vol. 3 Complete Recordings of Robert Petway, Mississippi Matilda, Sonny Boy Nelson – Document Records Vintage Blues and Jazz". Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  8. ^ "Robert Petway discography". Retrieved 2015-10-06.

External links[edit]