BOOGIE WOOGIE: Classic Blues Accompaniments
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Meade Lux Lewis (p) George Hannah (vcl) (on #1 and 2) Chicago; probably 1927
Probably Dobby Bragg (p) James “Boodle-It” Wiggins (vcl) (on #3 and 4) Chicago; 1928
Cripple Clarence Lofton (p) Louis Johnson (vcl) (on #5 and 6) Probably Grafton, Wisconsin; 1930
Blind Leroy Garnett (p) Jamed “Boodle-It’ Wiggins (vcl) (on #7 and 8) Richmond, Indiana; October 12, 1929
Freakish Man (2:49)
Molasses Sopper Blues (2:44)
Evil Woman Blues (3:02)
Keep a ‘Knocking and You Can’t Get In (3:10)
By the Mood and Stars (2:49)
On the Wall (3:01)
My Lovin’ Blues (2:42)
Weary Heart Blues (2:41)
Jazz, like any other large class of music, may be broken down into characteristic forms and styles for ease in discussion, but it is an acknowledged weakness of our language that conversational categories have no hard and fast definitions in experience. The music on this record has been variously called boogie woogie, barrelhouse, and blues. It is without a doubt to be included in the more general class: American Negro folk music. But whatever we finally label this music, we ca be sure that the archives of jazz have been more than kind in placing here before us not only memorable blues singing, but accompaniments of outstanding quality and significance, featuring some of the founders and greatest names in what is now known as boogie woogie.
From its pure folk origins, where it provided a roughly provided musical and vocal expression of individual and group life, the blues soon developed into a fairly standard metrical and harmonic pattern: the 12-bar blues is the most familiar structure, although smaller and larger groupings and deviations in meter are not uncommon. The subject matter of the vocal blues runs the gamut of commentary from the ridiculous to the sublime, from the passionate to the innocuous. Irony and double-entendre are traditional, as they are in the language of all people who have something to say in the presence of some who would suppress their saying it.
Developing with the vocal blues were patterns of instrumental accompaniment. Guitar, or piano became the minimum basic standard background. Different rhythmic conceptions were explored and expanded. One of these emphasized a double-time beat in the bass figures, a so-called “walking” or “rolling” bass, against which treble figures were fitted. This came to be called boogie woogie and further evolved into a solo piano form in addition to its role as one type of blues accompaniment. It is largely as a piano solo style that the public has come to know boogie woogie. Through commercialization it has been diluted to a point where the wit, wisdom, and aesthetic judgment of its originators have been lost. Riverside is fortunate to have access to the present collection of accompaniments in which the beginnings of boogie woogie piano style are evident.
The 1920s found blues singing and boogie woogie at a vigorous and newly mature stage where performers could be free of the cliches that an established popular art from is forced into. The material was fresh, often uniquely original with each performer or performance. The music became a part of the daily existence of Negro groups in both urban and rural communities, a synthesizing medium for the troubles and joys of living, loving, and working. It was recorded for just such audiences and could afford to remain closer to real experience than could a popular music intended for mass appeal to much more heterogenous groups. It is only in recent years that the public is awakening to the wealth of artistry in the original blues and jazz recordings of the ‘20s
The singers and accompanists featured here are obscure by general standards. (Meade Lux Lewis, who later rode to fame when boogie woogie pianistics enjoyed a fad as a night club attraction, is the exception.) While jazz connoisseurs have regarded them as prize items in a collection, the average blues and boogie woogie patron has been unaware of the existence of these examples from the mainstreams and tributaries of a great musical development. In listening to what they said and how they said it in their singing and playing, we may wonder about the particular events that gave substance to each lyric:
The slightly effeminate voice of George Hannah, singing of what many be interpreted as deviant sexuality, is a particularly poignant example of the personally expressive and cathartic importance of the blues. Meade Lux Lwwis furnishes a moving piano background that serves as a monument to his abilities as far more than just a boogie woogie soloist.
James “Boodle-It” Wiggins (the unusual nickname is of uncertain derivation) sings in a rough-hewn, definitely masculine voice. His lack of sustained tones and occasional injection of a chorus of kazoo or harmonica playing might mark him as among the more “primitive” of blues artists. On the other hand, his use of more conventionally standardized lyrics suggests the beginning of the professional, mass-media-oriented blues singers of today. His accompanist on Evil Woman Blues and the seldom-vocalized New Orleans jazz standard, Keep a’Knocking, is probably pianist Dobby Bragg, although some diehard experts find reason to believe that Blind Leroy Garnett is the pianist. The talented Garnett, whose work shows a considerable bit of ragtime and jazz influence, is with certainly the accompanist on Wiggins’ other two numbers here.
The voice of Louis Johnson, somewhat shrill in quality and unclear in enunciation, still caries the sense of authoritative importance and sorrowful, urgency that is characteristic of many types of blues performance. The atypical melody line of On the Wall illustrates one of the many possible dimensions for improvisation upon, and expansion of, the traditional blues pattern. The supporting and solo work of Cripple Clarence Lofton – a major contributor to the development of boogie woogie styling – is particularly exciting and richly rhythmic.
A note on the original recordings. All of these were issued by Paramount, although it’s interesting to note that the final two Wiggins numbers were among those recorded for that label at the studios of another celebrated jazz company of the day: Gennett. The Paramount label and (in parentheses) master numbers are, in order; 13024 (652) and 13048 (560); 12662 (20379 and 20378); 13008 (L420 and L419); 12878 (GE 15764 and GE 15765).
The great variety of blues and boogie woogie albums in Riverside’s Jazz Archives Series includes:
Pioneers of BOOGIE WOOGIE, Vols. 1 and 2 (RLPs 1009, 1034)
JIMMY YANCEY: a lost recording date (RLP 1028)
CRIPPLE CLARENCE LOFTON: a lost recording date (RLP 1037)
Jumpin’ with PETE JOHNSON (RLP-1054)
MA RINEY, Vols. 1, 2 and 3 (RLPs 1003, 1016, 1045)
BACKWOODS BLUES (RLP-1039)
BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON (RLP-1014)
This material reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner. The slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover art by Robert J. Lee typographical design by Gene Gogerty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.