Peter Joe Clayton was born in Georgia, though he later claimed he had been born in Africa, and moved to St. Louis as a child with his family. He had four children and worked in a factory in St. Louis, where he started his career as a singer (he could also play piano and ukelele, though he never did so on record). Clayton recorded six sides for Bluebird Records in 1935, but only two were ever issued. Clayton's entire family died in a house fire in 1937; following this Clayton became an alcoholic and began wearing outsized hats and glasses. Moving to Chicago with Robert Lockwood, he received attention from Decca Records but ultimately returned to Bluebird, recording with them again in 1941-42. He also recorded for Okeh Records at this time.
Among the songs he wrote were "Cheating and Lying Blues", frequently covered by other blues artists; "Pearl Harbor Blues", written after the Pearl Harbor bombing of 1941; and "Moonshine Woman Blues", which became a charthit for B. B. King under the name "The Woman I Love" in 1968. He recorded again in 1946, recording the tunes "Hold That Train, Conductor" and "I Need My Baby" which were also both covered by King. Most of his later recordings featured Blind John Davis on piano. He was a regional sales success and played regularly in Chicago nightclubs with Lockwood and Sunnyland Slim.