Leave it to a U.K. company to put out the definitive CD on one of America's more accomplished, yet unsung blues singers/electric guitarists. Indigo, like Ace of London, is so far ahead of most U.S. distributors when it comes to such historic music that it has to border on embarrassment.
Connie "Pee Wee" Crayton [the nickname was later applied by blues great Roy Brown] was born in Rockdale, Texas on December 18, 1914, but grew up in Austin where he learned to play the ukulele and trumpet. When he was 21 he moved to the west coast and for the next decade music was not part of his livelihood. But in 1945, with no real future in sight in the shipyards where he toiled, he took up the guitar at age 31 and eventually formed a trio which soon found steady employment in both LA and San Francisco. In 1946 he worked briefly with the great Ivory Joe Hunter in LA, even performing on a Pacific label record [which did not make any charts], and in 1947 cut a single of his own for the 4 Star label, which also failed to chart. But in 1948, with Modern Records, his Blues After Hours soared to # 1 in December on what then passed for the R&B charts, where it remained for three solid weeks. The flipside was I'm Still In Love With You.
The follow-up Texas Hop didn't fare quite as well early in 1949, but it still peaked at a respectable # 5 b/w Central Avenue Blues, and in August that year he had his third (and last) charted hit when I Love You So, on which he also vocalizes, topped out at # 6 b/w When Darkness Falls. All six sides are here, reproduced with amazing clarity.
The band then struck out on a tour across America and it was while they were in Michigan that he performed on a card with Big Joe Turner and Lowell Fulson. After deciding to make Detroit his home base in 1955, he continued touring the east coast and down into the southeastern states. One memorable show in Detroit saw he and the legendary T-Bone Walker slug it out on stage in the so-called Battle of the Guitars. It was considered a draw. Towards the end of the 1950s he was frequently found touring with the likes of Mabel (Big Maybelle) Louise Smith, and mega-stars like Dinah Washington and Ray Charles, cutting the odd record for both Vee-Jay and Fox, but without any further chart success.
In the 1960s revival (primarily in Europe) of the Country Blues artists from earlier decades such as B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, and Sonny Boy Williamson, Pee Wee Crayton was among the forgotten ones. After record sessions with Jamie in 1961 proved unsuccessful he went back to LA where, around sporadic live engagements, he drove a truck to make ends meet.
In 1968 he cut some more material for his old Modern label, but by then his sound was lost amidst the likes of The Doors, Rascals, Simon & Garfunkel, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder. However, in the 1970s he returned to the limelight briefly after he began playing with the famed Johnny Otis Show, including a gig at the Monterey Jazz Festival which was recorded and released by Colombia on their Epic subsidiary. In 1971 the Vanguard label released a critically-acclaimed LP titled Things I Used to Do, and in 1974 he recorded another for Blue Spectrum Records, the label started that year by Otis out in LA.
Pee Wee passed away in 1985. Almost totally forgotten these days in the general scheme of Blues history, and never regarded with the same devotion, even in his heyday, as most of his peers, he was always acclaimed by those same artists who truly appreciated his musicianship. Now, thanks to Indigo, those of us who do recall him fondly can hear him at his best, while those experiencing him for the first time can marvel at his dexterity.