By most reports Peter Joe Clayton was born April 19, 1898 in Georgia, although it has been claimed he was born in Africa and moved to St. Louis with his parents. In St. Louis he married and had four children and worked as a factory worker. It was there that he started his singing career (he also played piano and ukelele, though he never did so on record). Having recorded two sides for Vocalion in 1930 as Jesse Clayton, Clayton recorded six sides for Bluebird in 1935, but only two were ever issued.
Tragedy struck when Clayton's wife and children died in a house fire in 1937; following this Clayton became an alcoholic and began wearing outsized hats and glasses, developing a pattern of drinking and living recklessly that would continue for the rest of his life.
Moving to Chicago with Robert Lockwood, he received attention from Decca, but stayed with Bluebird, recording for them again in 1941-1942. He also recorded for Columbia/Okeh at this time.
In his book "Big Bill Blues" Big Bill Broonzy reminisced about Clayton with obvious fondness: "Doctor Clayton was a good hearted boy. He wouldn't get a room, he wore tennis shoes in winter time and slept on pool tables and in alleys and basements, anywhere he could, because all the money he made from singing he would drink it up, or lose it in some kind of game."
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 chart hit for B. B. King as "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 covered by King. Most of his later recordings featured Blind John Davis on piano. He played regularly in Chicago nightclubs with Lockwood and Sunnyland Slim.