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Peetie Wheatstraw Vol. 4 1936-1937

Peetie Wheatstraw

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Album Review

William Bunch recognized way back in the 1920s that creating a bad-ass persona would do wonders for record sales, and drawing on a shady character from black folklore, re-christened himself as Peetie Wheatstraw, claiming (long before Robert Johnson thought of it) that he had sold his soul to the devil down at the proverbial crossroads in exchange for success as a musician. And success he had, cutting upwards of 170 tracks for the ARC, Bluebird and Decca labels before his death in 1941, and at his peak in the '30s, he was the equivalent of a superstar. A down and dirty pianist and a surprisingly innovative singer (his frequent use of "oh well well" as a verbal punctuation device led to all sorts of variations by other singers), Wheatstraw was in essence the first pop outlaw, and his songs covered amazingly modern song topics like drug use (mostly alcohol), murder, suicide, unemployment, poverty, and, of course, sex, and he was a pivotal figure in the conversion of country blues to urban themes. Wheatstraw seldom varied from his chosen template, so this single-disc compilation is as fine an introduction to his work as any, and it includes key tracks like the jazz-inflected "Gangster Blues" as well as the cool cat (and ultimately ironic, given the terms of his demise) "Bring Me Flowers While I'm Living." Even Wheatstraw's tragic early death (he was 39) had "rock star cinema" written all over it, as he and his friends tried unsuccessfully to race their car through a crossing with a freight train bearing down on them, finally giving, as the legend dictates, the devil his due.

Biography

Born: December 21, 1902 in Ripley, TN

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s

Peetie Wheatstraw was the name adopted by singer William Bunch, taking it from Black American folklore. According to author Ralph Ellison, who made use of the Wheatstraw legend to model characters in his novels Invisible Man and Juneteenth, "Peetie Wheatstraw" was the evil half of a twin personality whose challenge was invoked at the start of a pool game. He was "the Devil's Son-In-Law" or "the High Sheriff of Hell," in search of his other half, the "Lord God Stingerroy" to shoot him a game. Nothing...
Full Bio
Peetie Wheatstraw Vol. 4 1936-1937, Peetie Wheatstraw
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