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
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