Pee Wee Crayton was an icon and pioneer of modern blues guitar. With inspiration from jazz legend Charlie Christian and lessons from T-Bone Walker, Crayton helped define the emerging West Coast blues scene and electric blues guitar, and became a patriarch of both. In his heyday (late '40s to early '50s) his popularity was second only to his mentor, T-Bone Walker, and his success preceded that of Lowell Fulson, Gatemouth Brown, and B.B. King.
Connie Curtis Pee Wee Crayton was born near Austin, Texas in Rockdale, on December 18, 1914. In 1935 he moved to Los Angeles. By World War II he was in the San Francisco Bay Area, an aspiring musician. There he supplemented the inspiration of jazz guitar trailblazer Charlie Christian with personal tutelage by a man who would be a close friend till his passing thirty years later, the original electric blues guitar master, T-Bone Walker. Crayton told interviewer John Breckow, "We got to be real good friends." According to another Pee Wee interview, T-Bone "showed me how to string up the guitar to get the blues sound out of it. T-Bone was gonna try to help me learn how to play. My timing was real bad. T-Bone helped me with my timing. He would play the piano or the bass and show me how to play in time." The two went on to stage friendly battles, and when T- Bone's health problems interfered with his gigs late in life, Crayton was on call to fill in whenever he was available. Pee Wee added some rawness to Walker's stylish blues approach, and chord knowledge gleaned from guitarist John Collins involving the use of four fingers. Pee Wee proudly stated, "I know how to play them big, pretty chords and where to put 'em at."
After some obscure recordings as a leader and sideman (mostly for pianist Ivory Joe Hunter) in the Bay Area, Pee Wee hooked up with L.A.-based Modern Records. In 1948 he broke through with the classic moody instrumental "Blues After Hours" and followed with the equally definitive hits, the swinging "Texas Hop" and vocal ballad "I Love You So." Soon he was tearing up venues around the country with his flashy picking, power chords and grooves suitable for dancing or romance. Though his great Modern sides have been reissued thoughtfully in England and Japan, their unavailability in the U.S. is a major gap in the blues canon. They and his personal appearances established Pee Wee as a stalwart of the emerging L.A. blues scene, and launched him as a formidable national presence. "I was the No. 1 attraction in the country for three years. I went across the country with a band that couldn't play five songs all the way through. Only thing I could play was the tunes I recorded. But, wherever I'd go, I'd draw a lot of people, because I was a good-looking man at that time. And very popular, you know, with the women anyway. So wherever women go, the men gonna be there." One man of note who was in the crowd for a different reason later was a certain Elvis Presley, according to musician Billy "The Kid" Emerson who took Elvis to hear Crayton at the Flamingo Club in Memphis: "Ah, man! Elvis thought that was somethin'. He'd never seen him before, and Pee Wee was good! Pee Wee Crayton was really good. And it learned him about stage personality, you know, he learned how to get around a stage and whatnot."