The early masters of the boogie woogie style had names like "Stavin' Chain," "Kid Stormy Weather," "Porkchops," "Skinny-Head Pete," "Papa Lord God," "Slamfoot Brown," and "The Toothpick." They were one-man bands, and they all played a similar style of blues piano with a heavy left hand and a walking bass. Cow Cow Davenport is often credited with coining the term "boogie woogie", although Will Ezell might also have had a claim. By the time Davenport came on the scene, the style had been around for more than 30 years, but no one ever called it "boogie woogie." This unmistakable "rolling bass" style of piano playing had a different name in every part of America, "overhand," "the fives," "fast Texas piano," "hop scop," the "dirty dozens," the "sixteens," or the "rocks." The originators of boogie woogie beat played old upright pianos mildewed from humidity and the occasional Saturday night soaking of beer. They were the stars of the drinking joints in the backwoods of east Texas and Louisiana and played in shacks with dirt floors that sold homemade booze and good times every night of the week. Barrels of illicit whisky lined the walls and gave these places (and the piano style they spawned) their name, "barrelhouse." Their audience were men from the timber camps deep in the pine woods, and workers laying track for the railroad.

The sounds of barrelhouse boogie woogie spread out in all directions following the path of the newly emerging railroad lines. The great Eubie Blake remembered hearing Will Turk, one of the early masters, playing with an unmistakable boogie bass line in Baltimore in the 1890s. Around 1900 in New Orleans, when he was just a teenager, Jelly Roll Morton recalled hearing a piano player by the name of "Lost John" from Alabama playing "that rolling bass." About the same time in Shreveport, the great American bluesman Leadbelly heard an old-time Louisiana piano player who called himself "Pine Top" playing boogie woogie. Leadbelly picked up Pine Top's rhythmic style and imitated it on his guitar. Leadbelly said, "That's what I wanted to play, that boogie woogie piano bass. I always wanted to play those piano tunes. I got it out of the barrelhouses." In 1904, Stavin' Chain was playing boogie in dance halls in Donaldsville, Louisiana, and Charlie Mills was playing it on the riverboats around New Orleans. In 1909, W.C.Handy heard boogie woogie in a saloon on Beale St. in Memphis, and in 1911, George Thomas wrote his Hop Scop Blues, and took it to New Orleans where it became the first boogie woogie-style tune to be published on sheet music in 1916. In 1928 Clarence 'Pinetop' Smith released "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie", using the phrase for the first time on record, and launched a fad that swept the world in the 1930,s and 1940's. The boogie woogie craze was one of the most spectacular evolution's in popular music to occur until Elvis Presley's Blue Suede Shoes. In many ways, boogie woogie is the father of rock and roll. To quote Little Richard: "Everything I play is boogie woogie...rock and roll is just up-tempo boogie woogie!"

(Derived from an article by Margaret Moos Pick, 2001, for RiverWalk.)