Precious few pianists could boast the thundering boogie prowess of Roosevelt Sykes who was a pioneering piano-pounder, responsible for the seminal pieces "44 Blues," "Driving Wheel," and "Night Time Is the Right Time." He was born in 1906 on his grandfather's farm in Helena, a town on the Mississippi River about 60 miles south of Memphis. He spent his formative years in St. Louis and he absorbed musical influences from both places. He  often returned to Helena to hear piano players like Jesse Bell, Joe Crump and Baby Sneel, and in St. Louis he accompanied blues vocalists like St. Louis Jimmy and "Specks" McFadden. He moved to New York when he was in his early 20's and began recording for the OKeh label. He was signed to four different labels during 1930 under four different names (his own plus Dobby Bragg, Willie Kelly, and Casey Papa Johnson). Sykes moved to Chicago when he was 29 years old and joined Decca Records in 1935, where his popularity blossomed, which continued later with Bluebird. He also continued to use pseudonyms along the way, e.g. St. Louis Johnny, and his most famous, The Honeydripper.

In 1940 he took on Memphis Slim (Peter Chatman) as a student. He also often toured and recorded with singer St. Louis Jimmy Oden, the originator of the classic "Going Down Slow." He enjoyed four decades of successful recording and performing, and he toured Europe four times between 1961 and 1974. His piano style featured a simple left hand, frequently single repeated notes on the beats, with great rhythmic complexity in his right hand. He remained harmonically very straightforward, rarely venturing beyond the three standard blues chords, a style with more kinship to the guitarists of the region than to the recorded pianists, although the unrecorded ones were frequently even simpler than that. He would often sing about half a measure ahead of his accompaniment, a trait that became his trademark. In the 1970's Sykes settled in New Orleans and he became a regular at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He died in New Orleans in 1983.