Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Pete Mayes grew up in the Houston blues club scene, the same scene that spawned the birth of Don Robey's Duke/Peacock label as well noted bluesmen like Lightnin' Hopkins, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Mayes was raised in the small town of Double Bayou, situated between Houston and Beaumont, near where the Trinity River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Double Bayou was home to a dancehall of the same name, which drew people from miles around.
As a young teenager, he began sitting in on guitar with various bands at the dancehall in the early '50s. Several years later he began leading his own group, opening up shows for touring acts, and much later (1983), he took over ownership of the dancehall from an uncle. He continued to play guitar throughout his tenure in the military. Mayes learned all he could by watching masters like T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown, and he cited Walker as a major influence on his subsequent sound. It was Walker who first brought Mayes on-stage to sit in with him one night when Mayes was 16. Mayes also credits B.B. King, Wes Montgomery, Lowell Fulson, and Kenny Burrell as influencing his style.
Mayes moved to Houston in 1960 and quickly immersed himself in that city's then-burgeoning nightclub scene. Not long after this, Mayes, Albert Collins, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland, and vocalist Frankie Lee were all recognized as among the top artists on the Houston blues club scene. In the 1960s, he performed and/or recorded with Fulson, Big Joe Turner, Percy Mayfield, Bill Doggett, and others who were around the scene in those days, including Junior Parker. He carefully honed his own style while on regional tours with Parker and others, and he recorded three albums under his own name. Mayes also found work in the '60s as a guitarist with touring jazz musicians like Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie.
Mayes was particularly proud of his late-'90s release for the Austin-based Antone's Records label, For Pete's Sake. It featured members of his Houston-based touring band, including keyboardist Bert Lewis, bassist Eugene Murray, saxophonist Don Rollins, and drummer Johnny Prejan. The influence of T-Bone Walker and other pioneers of Texas roadhouse blues is all over For Pete's Sake. Mayes told Texas journalist Alan Govenar, author of the book Texas Blues: "There is a Texas style of blues that's played with a kind of modern sound and a whole lot of expression. It's not jazz, but it's not like the Delta. Texas blues has class and is played with deep feeling."
Because of the economics of touring, the advent of television, and the resulting disappearance of big dancehalls around the U.S., Mayes never made his full-time living playing blues, and he worked various jobs throughout his life, including working as a ranch hand, hospital orderly, and painter. Mayes passed away in December 2008 in the Houston area at the age of 70. He had suffered with diabetes and heart problems for much of the previous decade. Notably, he performed at his family's Double Bayou Dance Hall every year for 54 consecutive years. Due to Mayes' failing health, there was no Christmas afternoon show in 2008. ~ Richard Skelly