Birth of the boogie

Nick asked if I’d ever heard a song that starts like this: “In a little honky tonky village in Texas, there’s a guy who plays the best piano by far …” I recognized the words right away. They come from the verse of a boogie-woogie song, “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar.” That song really took Nick back to his army days, when he and the other guys sang to break their boredom.

Songwriter Don Raye collaborated with Ray McKinley, co-leader of the Will Bradley Orchestra, to write “Beat Me Daddy.” The band introduced and recorded the tune in 1940, with McKinley on vocals. The song’s title probably deserves some explanation: it’s McKinley’s direction to drummer Freddie Slack, nicknamed “Daddy,” to give him a double-time, boogie beat of eight per measure, or “eight to the bar.”

Don Raye had a hand in creating numerous other boogie-woogie tunes in the early 1940s, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (revived by Bette Midler in the 1970s), “Rum Boogie” (or “Rhumboogie”), and “Scrub Me Mama, with a Boogie Beat,” a follow-up to “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar.” The Andrews Sisters made a hit record of every one.

My first request for a boogie-woogie song goes back to my beginnings as a volunteer pianist, about 10 years ago, when a man asked if I knew a song his World War II army bunkmate used to play over and over. He said it was just called “Boogie Woogie,” which I thought unlikely. But he was right. I traced the song to Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, an important figure in music history, and one I did not know about. All boogie-woogie composers owe a debt to Pinetop Smith.

Pinetop (so nicknamed for his love of climbing trees) was an American pianist who invented the boogie-woogie style. He recorded and released his composition, “Boogie Woogie,” at age 24, a few months before he died from an accidental shooting in a Chicago dance hall in 1929. In 1938, Tommy Dorsey arranged “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” for big band. The recording became a best seller during World War II.

You can easily find performances of “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar” and “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” on YouTube. But here’s another boogie-woogie number I found by happy accident:

Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

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This entry was posted in Music history, Song requests, Songwriters, Volunteering and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Birth of the boogie

  1. Judie says:

    I was so amazed by this performance that I did a little research on my own. Did you know Frank was born in Detroit and won a talent show at the age of three? Also, he gave up performing completely to get a college education and only has just recently been performing again? Remarkable story. Thanks for your blog! I am learning lots!!!

  2. Roger Wise says:

    I found it interesting that “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar” came from Ray McKinley’s direction to drummer Freddie “Daddy” Slack to give him a double time, eight to the bar boogie beat. Although McKinley was the vocalist in Will Bradley’s band at that time, he was himself a noted big band drummer who had performed with the Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey orchestras. After splitting with Bradley he formed a couple of his own big bands and took over as co-leader of Glenn Miller’s Air Force band after Miller’s disappearance in December 1944. He later went on to become leader of the revived Glenn Miller band. As a kid I remember seeing him drumming with this band way back in the days of black-and-white TV and was impressed at how graceful and flowing his movements were compared to any other drummer I had ever seen. McKinley got partial songwriting credit for “Beat Me Daddy…” under his wife’s maiden name Eleanore Sheehy.

  3. Roger, thanks for adding to my post with this information about McKinley’s drumming prowess. As a drummer yourself, you’re the perfect person to do so!

  4. June ritchie says:

    This reminded me of a album your gramps Payette played over and over knuckles OToole playing rag time! Thanks for reminding me!!

  5. June ritchie says:

    Thank you for including me I really enjoy your blog

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