FEATURED ARTIST / S
|Freddie 'Redd' Nicholson|
|Pine Top Smith|
From this album's booklet notes:
More is known about Pine Top Smith than the rest of the pianists here put together, so it’s ironic there should have been so many conflicting accounts of his life and death. According to Sarah Horton whom he married in 1924 it was in Pittsburgh he first started playing Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie. Cow Cow Davenport claimed to have originated the term, “boogie woogie”, when he met Pine Top in a joint in Pittsburgh’s Sachem Alley and told him, “You sure have got a mean boogie woogie”. Davenport, acting as talent scout, recommended Pine Top to J. Mayo Williams of Brunswick/Vocalion records and Smith moved to Chicago in the summer of 1928. Possibly Williams wasn’t sure how best to present his new artist - the first unissued sessions had him accompanied by jug and kazoo and teamed in a vocal duet but his first issued sides were two impeccable watershed performances. This was the first time “boogie woogie” appeared on record and seems to be a dance or step. Certainly the limpid grace of Pine Top’s rolling bass and the suspense of the breaks makes it eminently danceable. On his quick return to the studio another six sides mainly focussed on his vaudeville repertoire - apart from the precise Jump Steady while I’m Sober Now combined both sides of his background in the serio-comic dialogue and musical mixture of Blues and “sentimental stuff”. One more recording, the unissued DRIVING WHEEL BLUES, and Pine Top was gone; a stray bullet in a dance-hall brawl ended his life just two days later, 15 March 1929. Pine Top’s seminal recordings ushered in a very brief but exciting Golden Age of Blues piano recordings of mostly new artists.
Charles Avery is a total unknown with one solo, Dearborn Street Breakdown a driving, up-tempo boogie, from October 1929 to his name. He is known, if at all, for his backing Lucille Bogan on one session and his storming accompaniments to Lil Johnson and, perhaps, Willie Harris and, here, to Freddie “Redd” Nicholson another totally unknown singer. From the first Nicholson session Avery’s ‘63rd Street Stomp’ was unissued but the titles and his style place him firmly in the mainstream of Chicago piano blues and boogie.
Jabo Williams is the odd man out. From his only session in 1932 one title, Pratt City, refers to his Birmingham, Alabama origins as do Fat Mama and House Lady two songs later recorded by Birmingham’s Walter Roland while Polock Town celebrates a section of East St Louis. Jab’s music is barrelhouse piano blues of a very high order - rolling basses and attacking treble, melodic themes and even one semi-ragtime piece in ‘Pratt City’. The double-sided Kokomo is interesting as the earliest (1932) mature version of the theme that would provide James Arnold with a recording soubriquet and Robert Johnson with the basis for ‘Sweet Home Chicago’.