Real Blues Magazine review of Picking The Blues: Boogie Woogie Pioneers
There’s something about Boogie-Woogie Piano that stops people dead-in-their-tracks. It doesn’t matter how old/young the audience is (I’ve seen 3-and-4 year olds boppin’ up and down at an outdoor Boogie Piano Festival while next to them, Senior Citizens danced) and everyone who appears to be bitten by the Boogie Bug has beaming smiles abounding. Boogie Woogie Piano is one of the most concentrated forms of Joy Music known to Man and this excellent compilation contains 22 tracks of the finest Boogie ever recorded. Boogie Woogie records were recorded by the thousands between 1940 and 1952 by both Black & White pianists as a Boogie Woogie craze swept the World.
Leading off with the legendary “Cow Cow Blues” by Cow Cow Davenport, listeners will be pleasantly surprised by the fact that this is an alternate take, albeit with just minor changes. “Cow Cow Blues” was a Monster Piano Blues/Boogie tune, influencing a whole generation of pianists. My all time favorite Boogie pianist, the incomparable Pinetop Smith, jumps one with “Jump Steady Blues”, a rollicking and totally unique workout. Charlie Spand has the 3rd track and, according to musicians from 1920s/1930s Detroit and Chicago, Spand was one of the Greatest, if not THE Greatest pianists of the period. On his “Moaning The Blues”, we find that he’s also a fine, deep-voiced vocalist. Blind Blake picks excellent guitar on this tune. One of the most popular Boogie records, Romeo Nelson’s “Head Rag Hop” is up next on track #4. Frankie ‘Half-Pint’ Jaxon, the notorious female impersonator adds ‘female’ encouragement as Nelson shows off incredible speed and creativity. I never get tired of Little Brother Montgomery’s “No Special Rider” and his Southern Piano style graced Chicago’s studios and clubs for almost 50 years. Jabo Williams’ “Pratt City Blues” is a revelation amongst the rare recordings and Cleo Brown’s “Boogie Woogie” was a big commercial ‘Hit’ and triggered dozens of imitations. Jesse James wins hands-down for finest Blues vocals as he sounds like he’s been gargling with Canned Heat on his ode to prison, “Lonesome Day Blues”. He also has a powerful ‘stride’ piano style. Yancey, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons are all represented by signature style tracks and Lewis’s “Six Wheel Chaser” is exceptional. The greatest Boogie Woogie/Blues piano performance of all time, Big Maceo’s “Chicago Breakdown” is on here as well and most Blues Piano aficionados rank it as #1 or at least in the Top 3 of Extraordinary Boogie Piano Performances. It’s often been said that Maceo Merriweather had 3 (or 4…) hands, as his tour-de-force instrumental is so stunning. Maceo, of course, mentored Chicago’s other great pianist of the 1950s, Johnnie Jones. A nice treat is Memphis Slim’s “Slim’s Boogie”, one of the few times Mr. Chatman let-his-hair-down-on record. Speckled Red, older brother of pianist Piano Red (they were both albinos, hence the ‘Red’ monikers) delivers one of his signature Barrelhouse anthems, “Early In The Morning” and Otis Spann closes the disc with his fine “Otis In The Dark” from his 1960s Candid sessions.
A beautiful collection of Blues Boogie piano that has enough surprises to satisfy even the most jaded old fogey. I’ve always maintained that “Head Rag Hop” and “Chicago Breakdown” should be mandatory required listening for each and every resident of Planet Earth as they define Joy.
6 Old Grandads for this collection of magical music performances. Bring back Boogie Woogie!