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BLUESMUSE43. UPDATED October 20, 2021.
There’s been a fair share of boogie woogie piano in this blog lately, including a rare clip
featuring Jools Holland in his younger days banging the ivories with an equally young Dr. John. Just in case you didn’t know, Jools’ BBC TV show, “Later … With Jools Holland”, has become a contemporary music institution, enjoying millions of viewers worldwide, and is highly recommended. The world’s best bands and solo artists regularly appear live and I’ve recently noticed a number of guest artists have started to call it the best music show in the world. Jools, an exceptional pianist, makes a point of playing along with many of his guests, very often in the boogie woogie style. A recent example of the show’s stellar line-ups was Paul McCartney, the Arctic Monkeys and blues guitarist/singer Gary Clarke Jnr. amongst others, all on the same show.

Canned Heat with lead singer, Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite, centre

However, as much as I enjoy boogie piano, I love boogie guitar better – preferably nice and fuzzy in the style of ZZ Top. Boogie guitar, to me, seemed the heartbeat of the blues when growing up and spending my pocket money on obscure blues records. Indeed, the basic two-string boogie in E, playing A and D-strings on second and fourth frets, drives many rock & roll songs, not just blues.
On the cusp of 1967/1968, bluesy, brilliant electric guitar boogie struck mainstream Britain for the very first time, in the shape of Canned Heat’s ‘Fried Hockey Boogie’ from their ‘Boogie With Canned Heat’ LP. If you don’t know it, the track was over 11 minutes long and attributed to bass player Larry Taylor, although it borrowed heavily from John Lee Hooker’s 1949 ‘Boogie Chillen’ riff.

The great John Lee Hooker

If you’ve never heard Fried Hockey Boogie’, here’s a link to a seven minute version on
YouTube that’s well worth a listen.

Blaring out of shops, juke boxes, radios and discotheques (what we called dance clubs before the
disco craze soiled the disco’s reputation forever), Canned Heat’s boogie made me think all my Christmases had come at once. (Talking of Christmas, have a happy one for 2013, by the way. And, if in the UK, don’t forget the quest to put AC/DC’s Highway to Hell on top of Britain’s Christmas pop chart this year – see links on previous post.)
The 60s ended on a boogie high with America’s Norman Greenbaum’s fabulous fuzzy guitar boogie, Spirit In The Sky, released in late 1969. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZQxH_8raCI
John Lennon loved it saying he always preferred simple rock and nothing else. So did many others. The song topped charts around the world in 1969 and 1970 selling over two million copies.
In Britain, in March 1970, Status Quo had the first of many boogie rock & roll guitar hits with
‘Down The Dustpipe’. Two years earlier, Quo had had a big hit in the UK and USA
with their unusual ‘progressive’-style, or what’s now called ‘bubblegum
psychedelia’, ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’.

Kings of British guitar boogie: Status Quo

For posterity’s sake and the enlightenment of Quo fans who have never seen it, here’s the link:

Status Quo have since had 60 hits in Britain since Down The Dustpipe in 1970, most of them boogie guitar rock, more than any other rock band. Surprisingly, ‘Quo’ never again broke into the U.S. charts after that uncharacteristic 1968 Matchstick Men hit, not even with all those boogie records. Then again, taking UK boogie to the USA, the actual home of boogie, smacks of taking coal to Newcastle.
Now the boogie guitar craze was on in earnest. Another former English progressive rock combo, Tyrannosaurus Rex, shortened its name to T. Rex, combined boogie guitar with glam rock and released ‘Ride A White Swan’ in October 1970, which hit number two on the UK Top Ten. I remember the British DJ, John Peel, was supposed to have wept when he heard T. Rex had finally made the charts, such was his support for them. T. Rex went on to have a long run of chart hits, many of them boogie guitar-driven, and were one of the few British glam rock acts to make it big in the USA.
Boogie rock hit its peak in the mid-70s. Then the world of music seemed to go mad when the description ‘boogie’ seemed to be hi-jacked by the disco and dance crazes. Everyone was saying, yes, sir, they could boogie. There were boogie nights. The Jacksons blamed it on the boogie. There were boogie men. Even ABBA mentioned the boogie. Yet none of this dance music resembled anything like genuine boogie.
Who else could this be but ZZ Top?
Sanity was restored in 1984 when ZZ Top stormed the world’s charts with their rollicking boogie
guitar-style ‘Legs’ even though, apparently, most of the track was done on a synthesiser. And even Legs had a dance-mix version that made the dance charts.
But never mind, boogie had been reclaimed by two spinning furry guitars and ZZ Top have been masters
of the boogie guitar ever since.
All this is a (very) roundabout way of allowing me to mention the very first boogie guitar players
who included blues legends Lead Belly and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Born in the Louisiana village of Mooringsport in 1888, Lead Belly became one of the first American performers known to incorporate boogie into his guitar playing. Lead Belly once said he adapted a boogie rhythm to the guitar after first hearing boogie woogie piano’s rolling bass in north-east Texas, around 1899.

The earliest known boogie guitar player. The legend that was Lead Belly.

“Boogie woogie was known as barrelhouse in those days,” Lead Belly is recorded as saying. Other reports have Lead Belly saying he got the idea to incorporate walking bass piano-style boogie into his guitar playing after seeing an anonymous barrelhouse player called Pinetop (not Pinetop Smith or Pinetop Perkins) in Fannin Street in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana, also around 1899. It’s also said that Lead Belly, 32, taught the younger Lemon Jefferson, aged 17, boogie guitar when they played together in Dallas, Texas around 1910. Lead Belly called his boogie guitar playing, ‘booga-rooga’. All this and much more can be found in the Ebook, How Blues Evolved.Going for a song on the links below.


How Blues Evolved in the UK is on the following link:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital- text&field-keywords=how+blues+evolved+volume+one

In the USA, please follow this link:
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=how+blues+evolved

Find my blues history America’s Gift at http://goo.gl/At5AZe; How Blues Evolved 1&2 at Amazon eBooks, blues/rock vids at http://goo.gl/UQ8id8

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