Like many obscure blues legends, very little is known about Petway’s biographical life. He is thought to have been born sometime in 1903 in either Yazoo City, Mississippi or a few miles away in Itta Bena, Leflore County (according to researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc). Petway’s first recording session took place on March 28, 1941, with “Let Me Be Your Boss/Rockin’ Chair Blues.” That same session, he recorded his signature blues standard “Catfish Blues” along with its b-side, “Ride ‘Em On Down” as well as “Sleepy Woman Blues/Don’t Go Down Baby” and “Left My Baby Crying/My Little Girl.” On February 20, 1942, his last session, Petway recorded eight more sides, two of which are unissued. Petways last known sides are “Boogie Woogie Woman/Hollow Log Blues,” “In The Evening/Bertha Lee Blues,” and “My Baby Left Me/Cotton Pickin’ Blues.” “Hard Working Woman/Ar’nt Nobody’s Fool” are unissued/unheard to this day.
After all of this fabulous blues was cut to wax, Petway went Kerouac on both the music world, and apparently the rest of the world too. Like his right-hand-man Tommy McLennan, nobody knows what happened to him since, further pushing him into enigma status. Despite his elusive nature in blues history, Robert Petway has forever landed himself a spot in its books. Lest his genius be forgotten.