PIONEEERS OF BOGIE WOOGIE
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Eight piano improvisations in the great honky-tonk tradition
Meade Lux Lewis – Wesley Wallace – Cow-Cow Davenport – Blind Leroy Garnett – Charlie Spand – Henry Brown (#1, 4-8 recorded in Chicago, 1929; #2, 3 in St. Louis, 1930)
Honky Tonk Train Blues (3:12) (Meade Lux Lewis)
Number 29 (3:11) (Wesley Wallace)
Fanny Lee Blues (3:12) (Wallace)
Slow Drag (3:09) (Charlie Davenport)
5.Chain ‘Em Down (2:56) (Leroy Garnett)
6.Louisiana Glide (3:04) (Garnett)
7.Moanin’ the Blues (3:13) (Charlie Spand)
8.Henry Brown Blues (2:55) (Henry Brown)
This is hard-stomping jazz, just about as tough and barrelhouse as it can get. The six men who play here had good reason to know all about the authentic, lowdown, rocking piano style called “boogie woogie”- this was the way to play where they came from, and it was a way of playing that they just about invented.
The exact origins of the style are shrouded in the obscurity you encounter so often when trying to trace an aspect of jazz back to its roots. It is clearly a form of the blues, usually played hard and fast and always played rugged, but frequently enough with room for the melancholy and irony of the blues – as some of the records on this LP indicate. It may originally have been a sort of dance, probably not any set pattern of steps, but rather an improvised, fast-blues flinging-about.
Technically, it involves playing a double-time beat with the left hand (“eight to the bar”); this provides the repeated, rhythmic “walking” bass against which the right-hand improvisations can pound and leap. Like the classic blues, boogie woogie sounds fairly rigid as defined in words, but in unwritten, spur-of-the-moment performances like these it can have almost infinite range and variety, limited only by the ability and agility of the man at the piano.
The style would seem to have come out of the South-west and Texas, and to have made its way to Chicago by way of Kansas City. It was very prevalent in and around Chicago by the late 1920s – and that’s the time and place when such men as you’ll hear on this LP were playing in just about every honky tonk, back room, or apartment that had a battered upright still in playing condition. It has been suggested – and it does sound plausible – that the speed, the vigor, the heavy bass of boogie woogie came about inevitably as the only way in which the piano man could attract attention, or even be heard at all, over the uproar of a tough dance hall or in the crowded apartment of some guy who was throwing a part to raise the rent money …
This music is not to be confused with the fancy-dress version of boogie woogie that had its fling at popularity in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. It’s nice to recall that someone knew a good thing when he heard it, and took Meade Lux Lewis and a couple of his buddies (who were driving taxis for a living), poured their robust bulks into tuxedos, and made them a big night club attraction. But the craze that followed – when Tin Pan Alley song-writers and big dance bands and life-of-the-party amateurs all tried their imitative bands at it – soon reduced the savage and compelling stomp to an insipid, clichéd, swaying motion. It had very little in common with this source music which had evolved naturally out of its own background and way of life.
Trains (which pass close to homes in the ‘wrong’ part of town, which can separate lovers, or bring people back home, or make you wish you could travel to some presumably happier place) have long been part of the raw material of the blues. Boogie woogie, with its steady drive that actually suggests the sound, has had its share of celebrated trains. By far the most famous of these is Honky Tonk Train Blues. It has, of course, become a piano standard and almost a trademark for Meade Lewis. He has recorded it some half-dozen times, but never better than in this magnificent original version (Paramount 12896).
Wesley Wallace, like most of the rest of these great and gutty piano men, is an exceedingly little-known figure. He made few records, but his Number 29 has become a rare collector’s item and almost legendary among train blues. It is actually a train imitation, and a fascinating one, with Wallace providing a running commentary on the progress of a famous old engine on its way to East St. Louis. It is followed here by its original coupling on Para 12958, Fanny Lee Blues.
Charlie “Cow-Cow” Davenport has achieved recognition partly because he recorded rather frequently, but mostly because they took one of his tunes, during the aforementioned boogie woogie craze, and let his nickname lead them into a set of inane lyrics about cowboys “out on the Western plains.” (Cow-Cow himself has explained the name as only indirectly relating to animals – and to trains as well, deriving in some cloudy way from the cow-catchers on the front of old locomotives.) His Slow Drag (Para 12800), however, is undiluted, rugged, Davenport-style boogie woogie.
Blind Leroy Garnett provides two numbers (both originally issued on Para 12879) that help point up the immense diversity of this music. Chain ‘Em Down is an all-out, unchained romp; Louisiana is a near-incredible feat that couples the traditional solid bass with a rolling right hand that really does “glide.” Henry Brown was best known as a blues accompanist; his Blues (Para 12825) and Charlie Spand’s Moanin’ the Blues (Par 12856) move closer to the standard blues, the latter including a full (if not quite decipherable) set of lyrics full of possibly meaningful references to something called “woogie-ing.” They round out a unique LP that brings together some of the most stirring, rough-and-ready, down-to-earth piano jazz ever created.
This material is reissued by special arrangement with John Steiner and Paramount Records. The slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording techniques; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, New York