Pie Plant Pete Biography

Listeners who are serious about their guitar players would probably not think a character who called himself Pie Plant Pete would be worthy of their respect, which would be a mistake. Since Les Paul is regarded as an apostle by followers of guitar history, one and all should prepare to genuflect several times in the direction of Pie Plant Pete. He was the first serious musical influence on Les Paul, perhaps the major force which prompted Paul into the professional path that led to the invention of the electric guitar and multi-track recording. It seems Pete might have had a hand in many things, least of them pies or plates. It is true that the stage name Pie Plant Pete was somewhat embarrassing. The man's own playing partner of most frequency was Bashful Harmonica Joe, and everyone knew what he was bashful about -- his playing partner's stupid name. There is certainly nothing wrong with Claude Moye, which was the name Pie Plant Pete was given at birth. Yet it was the ridiculous nickname he used to launch a career as an early hillbilly recording artist. He was a pioneer in this genre of entertainment, broadcasting on Chicago's WLS along with the folkspun humor of Will Rogers. Pie Plant Pete was equally talented playing guitar, harmonica, and singing and was eventually pegged to record for Gennett, a label which received superior national distribution due to its affiliation with the Sears catalog. It was all quite in-house: WLS itself broadcast out of the Sears tower. Silvertone, Supertone, and Conqueror were all custom labels affiliated with theSears dynasty. Oral histories of the Gennett recording empire remark on a kind of laissez-faire attitude about the artists and weird names they might want to use: "A man might appear as Pie Plant Pete or some such on another label...I don't remember but few (musicians): Old Rocking Chair, Wreck of the Old 97 are about all. They came and went. Some were clean and workmen. Others were literally filthy and ruined many cuts by being scared or musically poorly organized," recalled company founder Fred Gannett. Pete wound up with many popular recordings, some released on Decca, including "Goodbye My Lover Goodbye," "The Story Has Ended," "Down by the Railroad Tracks," "I Think of Mother all the Time," "Prairie Moon," and "I'll Remember You Love Me in My Prayers." Fans of oldtime music who also happen to be criminals have their own favorite rare Pie Plant Pete sides, that being the 78 combining "Jailer Bring Back the Key" and "Boston Burgular," while lovers of novelty and animal songs swear by "Boy! Am I Glad" and "The Rooster Seranade." Four volumes of song folios published by the duo of Pete and Bashful Joe have remained in circulation. The Windy City was Pie Plant Pete's home base until sometime in the mid-'30s, when he lit out for Ohio and a series of posts at various regional radio stations. By then he was already a ten-year veteran of the somewhat infantile broadcasting industry, having begun at WLS in the first wave of performers there, between 1924 and 1925. It was in these years of holding forth at WLS that Pete became a favorite of avid listener Paul, then still in his teens. Indeed, Les Paul eventually hobbled together a copy of the Pie Plant Pete act, meaning a combination of goofy and sentimental old songs from the old-time repertoire spiced up with hot shot instrumental flourishes. Since Paul couldn't match the harmonica licks, he had to learn how to play all the much better on the guitar to compensate. Apparently by 1929, Paul had set himself up doing a series of dates in the style of his idol under the moniker of Rhubarb Red -- based on his red hair, his red hot music, or both. Even his biographers admit the concept was "playing off the name of Pie Plant Pete, rhubarb being a synonym for pie plant." Even the name Pete was attractive to some imitators, and by the '70s a Cactus Pete was on the air in some of the same markets where Pie Plant Pete was still holding forth, the former artist attempting to bolster his position by bringing in two mules for additional talent. Pooh-pooing the competition and firmly neighing at the jackasses, Pie Plant Pete still held onto his own radio shows in the early '70s. He would record the programs at his home in Ridgway, NJ, then bring the finished product over to WEBQ to be broadcast. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi


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