Peetie Wheatstraw

Complete Works, Vol. 3

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The third installment in Document's seven-volume Peetie Wheatstraw edition opens with songs about pimping and hustling, mixing cocktails, and making love like a spider. Tracks 1-11 were recorded in Chicago, alone at the piano and with guitarists Charley Jordan or Charlie McCoy. Peetie and Charley Jordan were the best of friends, and many of the songs in the Wheatstraw discography have Jordan listed as composer. The two men maintained a musicians' club and rehearsal space adjacent to Jordan's pad at 17th and O'Fallon where people like Roosevelt Sykes, Walter Davis, and Big Joe Williams would pay their 35-cent dues in order to be able to practice, jam, and prepare for their own recording sessions. Peetie gigged all over the Midwest during this period, and listening to his records, one can imagine him performing at length in all kinds of settings without ever running out of stories to tell. "Up the Road Blues" and "Last Dime Blues" are noteworthy for the absence of the famous Wheatstraw introduction, a musical fingerprint that instantly stamped dozens of other records with his unmistakable presence because he used the same structural template as a reusable canvas for his many improvised lyrics. "Johnnie Blues" kicks up the tempo a bit, and is considered one of this artist's stronger offerings. Peetie's first recording of 1936 was "No Good Woman (Fighting Blues)," a duet with Amos Easton, popularly known as Bumble Bee Slim. During the spoken introduction, Slim tries to pick a fight over a disputed female companion, to which Peetie replies "...don't fight, just play the blues and sing a little while, forget it." In his well-researched biography of Wheatstraw, Paul Garon marvels over the words to the "Kidnapper's Blues," noting the unlikelihood of a Depression-era bluesman being able to pay $10,000 ransom for a kidnapped black woman, or that a Chief Detective of that time period would even bother with such a case. He also points out that low-profile abductions were not unknown in the high-crime neighborhoods where Peetie and his primary audience lived and worked. Five days after this Vocalion record was cut in Chicago, Wheatstraw was in New York City making records for Decca with guitarist Kokomo Arnold, forging a working friendship that would bear fruit while strengthening Wheatstraw's relations with Decca. In October of 1936, he would become an exclusive Decca artist and would remain so until his sudden death in 1941.

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