Boogie-woogie is a style of piano-based blues that became very popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but originated much earlier, and was extended from piano, to three pianos at once, guitar, big band, and country and western music, and even gospel. Whilst the blues traditionally depicts sadness and sorrow, boogie-woogie is associated with dancing. The lyrics of one of the very earliest, "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie", consist entirely of instructions to dancers:
It is characterized by a regular bass figure, an ostinato and the most familiar example of shifts of level, in the left hand which elaborates on each chord, and trills and decorations from the right hand.
It is not strictly a solo piano style, but is also used to accompany singers and as a solo part in bands and small combos. It is sometimes called "eight to the bar", as much of it is written in common time (4/4) time using eighth notes (quavers) (see time signature). The chord progressions are typically based on I - IV - V - I (with many formal variations of it, such as I/i - IV/iv - v/I, as well as chords that lead into these ones.
Typical boogie woogie bassline:
In an interview with NPR blues singer and pianist Marcia Ball stated that "Boogie woogie started out with a bunch of different names, depending on where you were. Apparently there was a song by a guy named Dudlow, Joe Dudlow. He’s the first guy that a lot of them heard that was playing that kind of um… [playing]. And so they called it that for a while, Dudlow Joe." The precise origin of boogie-woogie piano is, however, uncertain; it was no doubt influenced by early rough music played in honky tonks in the Southern United States. W.C. Handy and Jelly Roll Morton both mentioned hearing pianists playing this style before 1910. According to Clarence Williams, the style was started by Texas pianist George W. Thomas. Thomas published one of the earliest pieces of sheet music with the boogie-woogie bassline, "New Orleans Hop Scop Blues" in 1916, although Williams recalled hearing him play the number before 1911. The term "boogie" itself was in use very early, as in Wilbur Sweatman's "Boogie Rag" recorded in April, 1917. link
'The Fives', which was composed by George and Hersal Thomas from Texas, was copyrighted in 1921 and published in 1922, deserves much credit for the development of modern Boogie Woogie. All modern Boogie Woogie bass figures can be found in "The Fives," including swinging, walking broken-octave bass, shuffled (swinging) chord bass (of the sort later used by Ammons, Lewis, and Clarence "Pine Top" Smith), and the ubiquitous "oom-pah" ragtime stride bass.
A song titled "Tin Roof Blues" was published in 1923 by the Clarence Williams Publishing Company. Compositional credit is given to Richard Jones. The Jones composition uses a boogie bass in the introduction with some variation throughout. In February of 1923 Joseph Samuels' Tampa Blue Jazz Band recorded the George W. Thomas number "The Fives" for Okeh Records, considered the first example of jazz band boogie-woogie. Jimmy Blythe's recording of "Chicago Stomps" from April of 1924 is sometimes called the first complete boogie-woogie piano solo record.
The first boogie woogie hit was "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" by Pinetop Smith (1928 in music) recorded in 1928 and first released in 1929. Pinetop's record was the first boogie-woogie recording to be a commercial hit, and helped established boogie-woogie as the name of the style. It was closely followed by another example of pure boogie-woogie, "Honky Tonk Train Blues" by Meade Lux Lewis, recorded by Paramount Records; 1927 in music, first released in March of 1930. The performance emulates a railroad trip, perhaps lending credence to the "train theory".
The trickle of what was initially called Hillbilly Boogie, or Okie Boogie (later to be renamed Country Boogie), became a flood beginning around late 1945. One notable country boogie from this period was the Delmore Brothers "Freight Train Boogie", considered to be part of the combined evolution of country music and blues towards rockabilly. In 1948 Arthur Smith achieved Top 10 US country chart success with his MGM Records recordings of "Guitar Boogie" and "Banjo Boogie", with the former crossing over to the US pop chart, introducing many people to the potential of the electric guitar. The Hillbilly Boogie period lasted into the 1950s, the last recordings of this era were made by Tennessee Ernie Ford with Cliffie Stone and his orchestra with the great guitar duo Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West. Bill Haley and the Saddlemen recorded two boogies in 1951.
The boogie beat has continued in country music through the end of the twentieth century. The Charlie Daniels Band (whose earlier tune "The South's Gonna Do It Again" uses boogie-woogie influences) released "Boogie Woogie Fiddle Country Blues" in 1988, and three years later in 1991 Brooks & Dunn had a huge hit with "Boot Scootin' Boogie".
More representative examples can be found in some of the songs of Western Swing pioneer Bob Wills, and subsequent tradition-minded country artists such as Asleep At The Wheel, Merle Haggard, and even George Strait.
The popularity of the Carnegie Hall concerts meant work for many of the fellow boogie players and also led to the adaptation of boogie-woogie sounds to many other forms of music. Tommy Dorsey's band had a hit with "T.D.'s Boogie Woogie" as arranged by Sy Oliver and soon there were boogie-woogie songs, recorded and printed, of many different stripes. Most famously, in the big-band genre, the ubiquitous "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," which was revamped recently by Christina Aguilera as her 2006 hit, "Candy Man."
In the many styles of blues, especially Chicago blues and (more recently) West Coast blues, most pianists were influenced by, and employed, the traditional boogie woogie styles. Some of the earliest and most influential were Big Maceo Merriweather and, later, Sunnyland Slim (perhaps the greatest of all Chicago blues pianists). Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins, two of the best known blues pianists, are heavily boogie-woogie influenced, with the latter taking both his name and signature tune from Pinetop Smith.
The boogie-woogie fad lasted from the late 1930s into the early fifties, and made a major contribution to the development of jump blues and ultimately to rock and roll, epitomized by Jerry Lee Lewis. Boogie woogie is still to be heard in clubs and on records throughout Europe and North America.
In classical music, the composer Conlon Nancarrow was also deeply influenced by boogie-woogie, as many of his early works for player piano demonstrate. "A Wonderful Time Up There" is a boogie woogie gospel song. Povel Ramel's first hit in 1944 was Johanssons boogie-woogie-vals where he mixed boogie-woogie with waltz. John Lee Hooker took the Boogie-woogie style over to guitar from piano, creating the Boogie song "Boogie Chillen".
Beginning in the 1970s, and continuing to this day, artists such as George Frayne (Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen), keep (mostly) traditional boogie style alive with songs such as "Rock That Boogie", "Too Much Fun", "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar", and others. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century Jools Holland has been instrumental in keeping the boogie-woogie tradition alive. Also, multinstrumentalist Shawn Lee experiments with boogie-woogie in his 2006 soundtrack for the game "Bully", in the song Fighting Johnny Vincent.