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|In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
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In some circles it’s called “manhandling the piano,” but boogie-woogie, or
“barrelhouse” is a genuine back-country offshoot of the blues whose
beginnings ran nearly parallel to the earliest New Orleans jazz.
Its geographic roots were somewhere west of the Mississippi in, or around,
Texas. Originally people called it “fast western” and the term “boogie
woogie” never really stuck till the late 20’s when Clarence “Pinetop” Smith
used the term in the title of a tune he recorded.
The stylistic character of this piano music evolved from the so-called
“barrelhouses” that entertained the rural African-American laborers in the
turpentine and railroad construction camps of the Southwest. After World
War I many of these laborers (as well as their barrelhouse piano players)
migrated north to such places as Kansas City and Chicago taking their
raucous and rolling, eight-to-the-bar piano music with them. There it
flourished in bars, rent-parties, and bordellos.
In 1938, two boogie-woogie practitioners from Chicago: Albert Ammons
and Meade Lux Lewis; and one from Kansas City: Pete Johnson, performed
to a rapt audience in New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. This planted the
seed for a national boogie-woogie craze that influenced and lasted through
the “swing-era” till the end of World War II. But its influence lived on even
after that in Rhythm and Blues.
Some of the important boogie-woogie compositions are:
PINETOP’S BOOGIE WOOGIE – written and recorded in 1928, by Clarence
“Pinetop” Smith. It is considered the single most influential boogie-woogie
of all time. It was also the first composition to use the term “boogie
COW COW BLUES – by Cow Cow Davenport, was later re-worked by Ray
Charles into a tune called “Mess Around.”
ROLL ‘EM PETE – by Pete Johnson; this was this Kansas City musician’s
most famous piece and he often used it to accompany blues singer Big Joe
Turner’s improvised blues lyrics.
HONKY TONK TRAIN BLUES – written in 1927, by Meade Lux Lewis, it
was inspired by a childhood surrounded by trains and the sounds of
engines, whistles and wheels.
BOOGIE WOOGIE STOMP – by Albert Ammons, who also wrote “Swanee
River Boogie,” was his own dynamic version of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie.”
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