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Encyclopedia > Peetie Wheatstraw
Peetie Wheatstraw
Peetie Wheatstraw

Peetie Wheatstraw (December 21, 1902 - December 21, 1941) was the name adopted by singer William Bunch, a greatly influential figure among 1930s Delta Blues singers.


Early life and career

Wheatstraw was born William Bunch in Ripley, Tennessee, his family relocated to Cotton Plant, Arkansas soon after his birth. Little is known of his early life, other than that he took up playing both the piano and guitar at a young age.

Bunch left Cotton Plant in 1927 and began living the life of an itinerant musician traveling throughout the Deep South. Like many African Americans of this time period, the great migration eventually drew his attention to the cities of the North. Places such as Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit were favoured destinations, due to the wealth of employment in the factories located in these cities. St. Louis was another city that drew its share of uprooted individuals who sought a better life than that offered by the toil of sharecropping. It was in St. Louis that Bunch landed in 1929.

Having honed his musical talents while travelling, and influenced by the popularity of the Blues duet of pianist Leroy Carr and guitar player Scrapper Blackwell, Bunch found easy work in the clubs of both St. Louis and East St. Louis on the other side of the Mississippi River. Leroy Carr, probably born in 1899, was an American blues singer and pianist who developed a laid-back, crooning technique and whose popularity and style influenced artists like Nat King Cole and Ray Charles. ...

It was around this time Bunch decided to change his name to Peetie Wheatstraw.


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. Allegedly, as Wheatstraw, William Bunch was also spreading the rumor that he had been to the "crossroads" and had sold his soul to the Prince of Darkness in exchange for success as a musician, a tale told by a number of blues musicians of the age, most notably Robert Johnson. Ralph Ellison (March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994) was an African American scholar and writer. ...

Popular career and style

Wheatstraw's sely-promotion swiftly paid off as he became a popular performer in East St. Louis, to the extent that he was asked to Chicago in 1930 to partake in recording sessions. He first entered the Vocalion Studios on August 13, 1930, and recorded a handful of numbers which included "Four O'Clock In The Morning" and "Tennessee Peaches Blues".

Over the following decade, he would make several such treks, recording over 160 sides for the location, Decca and Bluebird labels. Almost all of his recorded pieces featured him on the piano, rarely performing as a guitarist at these sessions.

Wheatstraw was known for his laid-back approach and adept singing and songwriting, though his instrumental talents were average at best. His songwriting appealed to working class minorities, due to their nature of the content - he often wrote about social issues such as unemployment and public assistance. There were also pieces about the immoral ways of loose women, and true to his own self-publicity, death and the supernatural. Almost all of his songs included his trademark statement of "Oh, well well" usually accentuated in the third verse and this has been carried on by many subsequent Bluesmen, most noteworthy today being R.L. Burnside. R. L. Burnside (b. ...

On his records Wheatstraw usually took to the piano and required a guitarist to play with him - among his collaborators were Kokomo Arnold, Lonnie Johnson, Charlie Jordan, Charlie McCoy and Teddy Bunn, in addition to pianist Champion Jack Dupree. On some of his last dates, Peetie Wheatstraw recorded within a jazz inspired framework, collaborating with Lil Armstrong and trumpeter Jonah Jones. Kokomo Arnold (15 February 1901–8 November 1968) was an American blues musician. ... Alfonzo Lonnie Johnson (February 8, 1894 - June 6, 1970) was a pioneering blues and jazz singer/guitarist born in New Orleans, Louisiana. ... For the African American blues musician, see Papa Charlie McCoy. ... William Thomas Dupree, best known as Champion Jack Dupree, was an American blues pianist. ... Lil Hardin Armstrong (February 3, 1898 - August 27, 1971) was a jazz pianist, composer, arranger, singer, and bandleader, and the second wife of Louis Armstrong with whom she collaborated on many recordings in the 1920s. ...


Wheatstraw's influence was enormous during the 1930s. Perhaps the most obvious example of Wheatstraw's impact can be seen in the writings of Robert Johnson, often considered the most important Blues figure of the era. Many of Johnson's own recordings were actually re-workings of other popular artists of the time, and he drew heavily from Wheatstraw's repertoire.


Wheatstraw was still riding the crest of his success when he met his premature demise. On December 21, 1941, his 39th birthday, Wheatstraw and some friends decided to drive to the local market to pick up some liquor. On the way they tried to beat a railroad train at a crossroads that was coming down the tracks at full speed, and failed. The irony of a man who cultivated the myth of meeting the Devil at the crossroads dying at such a junction was not lost, though Wheatstraw's death drew very little attention at the time.

External links

  • Peetie Wheatstraw at the Cascade Blues Association
  • Allmusic entry

  Results from FactBites:
Peetie Wheatstraw (1237 words)
Peetie Wheatstraw also emphasized a relationship with the Prince of Darkness as a means to attract an audience.
Peetie Wheatstraw, though perhaps only a mediocre instrumentalist at best, was quite an adept vocalist and songwriter.
It was because of artists like Peetie Wheatstraw that St. Louis was an important musical locale during the 1930s, and he'll always be remembered as one of its greatest sons.
Peetie Wheatstraw Blues Peetie wheatstraw Saint louis - chicago - new york 1931 - 1941 - Frémeaux & Associés éditeur ... (531 words)
Peetie Wheatstraw Blues Peetie wheatstraw Saint louis - chicago - new york 1931 - 1941 - Frémeaux & Associés éditeur, la librairie sonore
Peetie Wheatstraw fut dans les années 30 un des bluesmen les plus populaires auprès du public noir des ghettos urbains de Saint-Louis et Chicago.
Peetie Wheatstraw fut dans les années 30 un des bluesmen les plus populaires auprès du public noir des ghettos...
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