Peetie WheatstrawPeetie Wheatstraw was born on 21/12/1902 in either Ripley, Tennessee or Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Whilst it is thought he was born in Ripley, he is also widely believed to be from Cotton Plant. His birth name was William Bunch.
In the late 1920s, Wheatstraw moved to East St. Louis, Illinois. By then he was an accomplished guitarist and pianist. He would often perform at the Lovejoy club in East St Louis, or at a juke joint above a barber shop on West Biddle street. By the early 1930s, Wheatstraw was one of the most popular singers in the area, when Sunnyland Slim moved to St Louis.
In 1930, Wheatstraw started recording. Blues musician Charlie Jordan introduced him to recording and set him up with Vocalion Records and Decca Records. In August 1930, Wheatstraw recorded a duet with the musician Neckbones called "Tennessee Peaches Blues". Wheatstraw was a popular recording artist and was able to continue to record through the Great Depression, despite sales of blues records being significantly lower during the period. In his first two years of recording, Wheatstraw recorded 21 songs. He made no records between March 1932 and March 1934 whilst he developed his mature style. Over the course of his recording career, he recorded a total of 161 songs. That total was surpassed by only four prewar blues artists: Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson and Bumble Bee Slim.
Wheatstraw's live performances were concentrated in St. Louis and East St Louis, with little evidence of any performances outside of there apart from his recording work. His popularity in those cities was only rivalled by Walter Davis.
On 21/12/1941, Wheatstraw died in a car accident in East St Louis, Illinois. He was in the backseat of a friends car when it was struck a standing freight train. His two friends died instantly and he would later succumb to head injuries in hospital.
Wheatstraw would be highly influential in the 1930s, including on the lyrics and vocal style of Robert Johnson.