Peetie Wheatstraw

The Essential

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In 2003, the Classic Blues label released a 36-track Essential overview of the meteoric career of bluesman Peetie Wheatstraw, its non-chronological playlist drawing upon the entire timeline of his prolific recording history, from August 1930 to November 1941. It is an abbreviated version of Wheatstraw's enormously comprehensive Complete Works, amounting to no less than seven volumes and released by Document in 1994. The songs are well-selected, offering a healthy range of form, texture, and mood. Topics include women and fish, liquor and guns, money and civil disobedience. The hottest tunes are an upbeat barrelhouse "Shack Bully Stomp," recorded in 1938 with guitarist Lonnie Johnson, and "Throw Me in the Alley," a swinging blowout from 1934 with trombonist Ike Rodgers and pianist Henry Brown. Wheatstraw, whose given name was William Bunch, chose a professional name rooted in the African American folk tradition, signifying the individual or collective shadow self as personified by a demonic "Mr. Hyde" who was hopefully counterbalanced by one's better half. Wheatstraw also may have been responding to pejorative assessments of the blues as The Devil's Music by reasoning that his masterful musicianship must therefore have made him part of the Devil's extended family. This kind of bravado, played out even more outrageously by amending his moniker with the title High Sheriff from Hell, pegs his music as something akin to ancestral hip-hop, with the split personality dynamic revisited generations later by Eminem and his own personal demon, Slim Shady.

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