Robert Petway ‘Catfish’ tab…

But first…
Dulltown, UK: Today’s featured fruit is the knobbly dark avocado sulking behind the curtain on the kitchen window sill.

Now, my dear reader, today’s post is something of a departure from the norm, and will probably be of interest to only a small, but select, number of my readers. I expect that you will have already noticed that down the page there is something that looks like written music (it is ‘tab’ or ‘tablature’ for guitar) and also there is a photo of my hand. You may wish to jump ship here…
It all started last week when I was playing a cd track, Catfish Blues (1941) by Robert Petway to a friend of mine. I mentioned to him that I could play a version of it on my guitar, but when comparing it with the original I realised that mine was really a pretty poor attempt, and I decided that I should try to learn something a bit closer to Mr Petway’s rendering.
I must confess here and now that I am not very good at working out chords and riffs from listening to cd or YouTube tracks, so I knew this was going to be a struggle.
I did have a look online to see if anyone had already worked it out, but all the versions I found didn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the original, so I set to work myself…
It’s always a good idea to sort out what the hell key the thing is in before you start; on the cd Robert is in G, on YouTube he seems to be in G#, but let’s not let this get too messy; I think we’d better just stick with G don’t you?
Happily there is not much clever chord changing going on in this song, but the rhythm is bouncy tricky and infectious, there is a nifty repeating riff which, along with Robert’s fine vocals, makes the song, for me, rather wonderful.
So… it’s in G. But how is he playing it? Is it in ‘normal’ tuning and played somewhere around the third fret? (with a capo?) Is his guitar in ‘G tuning’ (DGDGBD); perhaps he is in ‘D tuning’ (DADF#AD) with a capo up at the fifth fret to give the key of G?…
That little run he plays – is it single notes, or is it made up of two-note chords? The start of the main riff is obviously a low G, then a high G, twice, then the little descending run.
Now, most blues players from that era tend to use ‘finger-style’ picking, with the thumb and fingers, but as soon as I tried it with a plectrum instead it started to sound a bit more like Mr Petway – but where on the neck is he playing it, and in what tuning, and is he using a capo?… Hm…
Alright, this is it – my version – I think it sounds ‘a bit like’ his original – if you have a better version of it, do let me know. Mine is in ‘normal’ tuning, without a capo. I keep my fingers around that three-note Gm chord most of the time. I am deliberately quite sloppy and energetic with the up and down hits, and the pick may catch the open third string (G) which is okay, and even the second string (B), but I do try not to bring in the first string (E) – no, we certainly don’t need that!
I have also included those nice descending runs that he sings along with at the end of the verse, and those moody bent minor thirds from the middle of the verse too. Have a listen to the original here – Catfish Blues Robert Petway



About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
This entry was posted in blues, brain, cool, guitars, information, instruction, learning, music and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Robert Petway ‘Catfish’ tab…

  1. Oh my WORD! I love this song 😀 I see from the blurb on the YT video that he only made 16 songs or something, and there is only one photo of him. But heck, this is a great song! Also I think we should have a regular spot for Dave’s Music Class – what do you think?

    • Dave Whatt says:

      It is a little masterpiece isn’t it?
      ‘Uncle Dave’s Music Class’? – I think it would be of a minority interest.
      I love blues music, but generally people don’t seem to get it – they’d probably think Mr Petway was a bit dull and boring… and that he’d be hopeless on The X-Factor…

  2. Dana Doran says:

    Sounds just like Mississippi to me. You should consider a trip to the Gulf Coast—I would recommend “The Shed” in Ocean Springs – blues and BBQ.

    • Dave Whatt says:

      Ah, some great blues came out of Mississippi – and thank you for “The Shed” information, but unfortunately I am not one for travelling great distances… I just stay at home and twang my guitar…

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