Happy Birthday, Peetie Wheatstraw
Peetie Wheatstraw, a.k.a. William Bunch, the Devil's Son-in-Law and High Sheriff of Hell, was born during the Winter Solstice of 1902 and died on the Solstice in 1941. He was born in Ripley, Tennessee and his people relocated to eastern Arkansas. By 1920 he had moved to St. Louis, taken his stage name, and recorded more than 160 songs starting in the 1930's.
You can always tell
When your woman gon' throw you down
She's always got business
Ooh-well-well, on the other side of town
At least one historian, Ted Gioia, thinks Robert Johnson borrowed some of his myth-making from Peetie's stories about a relationship with the Devil, just as some of it was borrowed for a Rudy Ray Moore comedy in 1979. A character in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is based on the musician's persona.
I am going to Chicago
An' get my ham bone boiled
Because these St. Louis women
Woo-well, going to let my ham bone spoil.
My father knew a blues singer called "Wheatstraw" along the Mississippi delta near Blytheville, Arkansas, but that seems to have been a family man who sang from his front porch and in the field. William Bunch would have been a well-known professional by then, more likely to perform in the "blind pigs" or speakeasies around the delta.
He was riding in the back of a Buick up in East St. Louis when the car hit a freight train, December 21, 1941. His body was shipped to Cotton Plant, Arkansas in Woodruff County.
Bring me flowers whiles I'm livin'
Please don't bring them when I am dead
And bring ice bags to my bedside
Ooh-well-well, to cool my achin' head
Bring me water to my bed
A drink will keep me cool
And just say after I am gone
Ooh-well-well, 'I sure tried to help that fool'