Jacob Haller (jwgh) wrote,
Jacob Haller

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I play blues piano. I don't think I'm completely terrible, but I can certainly use a lot of improvement.

When I was first playing piano I made some half-assed attempts to learn some of the standard boogie woogie piano pieces, things like the Chicken Shack, the Dirty Dozens, the odd Jimmy Yancey piece and, of course, Pine Top's Boogie Woogie.

Pine Top Smith was a boogie woogie piano player who, in 1928, recorded the song 'Pine Top's Boogie Woogie'. It's basically a piano solo piece with a bass line that became (if it wasn't already) one of the standard bass lines and a few alternating right hand parts that he played over it. What really made the piece, though, was the patter that he kept going while playing, which went something like: "Now listen you all, this is my Pine Top strut. I want everyone dancing just like I tell you. And when I say to hold yourself, get ready to stop. And when I say stop, don't move a peg. And when I say to get it, everybody do a boogie woogie. Hold yourself now .... Boogie woogie. Now that's what I'm talking about." Listening to the piece, or seeing someone perform it live, it's clear that the piece just isn't the same without the piano player giving instructions to the nonexistent dancers that surround him (or her, although I don't think I've heard a woman perform this piece. Hm.)

So back in the day, as I said, I worked on this piece some and learned some approximation of bits of the piano part. What I had never bothered to do was deal with the patter. It turns out that this makes it a lot harder, at least for me.

But none of this is actually relevant to this post!

While I was struggling with this particular piece of music, I got the idea that it would be useful to hear a bunch of different versions of the piece, so I could hear what different people did with it. So I dug into my record collection and found a couple of versions, and then went to the Apple Music Store and found a bunch more. And here they are:

  • PINETOP'S BOOGIE WOOGIE -- Pine Top Smith. The original. The classic. Its main shortcoming is that it's a little muffled (having been recorded eighty-five years ago).

    I've heard one other Pine Top Smith recording, Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out, and he sort of recites the lyrics there, which leads me to the thought that he may have approached the vocals to Pinetop's Boogie Woogie the way he did because he wasn't actually much of a singer, but it's none the worse for that.

  • Pinetop Boogie -- Curtis Jones. This is from the Apple Music Store. It's sort of a relaxed version and includes a mellow organ in the background, plus a bass and a drummer. The vocals are pretty enthusiastic, and there's some nice piano playing, although I think I might have caught him in a mistake or two. He switches basslines and takes some extended vocalless soloes, which makes for a more textured version of the song, which in a way is kind of nice and in a way I don't entirely approve of.
  • 501 Boogie -- Professor Longhair. Aie! A version that doesn't have 'Pinetop' in the title and also doesn't have any vocals at all! The piano part is very close to the Pine Top Smith version (though with some very Professor Longhair-ish touches), so it's clearly the same song. This version includes a guitar solo and a drummer.
  • Pinetop's Boogie Woogie -- Pinetop Perkins. This is from his album After Hours (via the Apple Music Store). A bare-bones version -- just piano and vocals. A nice, energetic performance. I think this was actually the one I was copying back when I was first trying to learn this piece. It includes a nice piano break that appears to have been lifted from a Jimmy Yancey piece.
  • Pinetop's Boogie Woogie -- Muddy Waters. Oh, did I say Muddy Waters? I should have said Pinetop Perkins. This is a live version recorded while Pinetop Perkins was playing in Muddy Waters's band and is pretty similar to the one above, except the piano has a bit of a stronger tone and there is, of course the band (drums, guitar, and harmonica). I think it's a little faster too and is one of the longer versions of this song at five and a half minutes. Everyone (except the drummer -- poor drummer! lucky us!) gets to solo for a couple of choruses. For most of the song the left hand piano part drops out altogether (being taken over by the bass), allowing Mr. Perkins to concentrate on the right hand to great effect.
  • Pinetop's Boogie Woogie -- The Nighthawks. Damn, this pianist sounds awful familiar. Oh, hey, that's because it's Pinetop Perkins again -- I gather that the Nighthawks included a bunch of former Muddy Waters personnel at one time or another, and this was Pinetop Perkins's time. As such it's quite similar to the version above. Even to crazy people like me who are trying to collect as many versions of this song as possible it's probably not necessary to get both; I probably give the edge to this version as I like the harmonica playing better on it. Also, it's even longer than the other version, weighing in at six and a half minutes.
  • Pinetop's Boogie Woogie -- Hugo Montenegro. Ah, a version on an album called Boogie Woogie and Bongos. This should be good.

    And it is. The usually free-form introduction is made regular through a judicious addition of bongos and trombone, and there appear to be two piano players playing simultaneously, one on each speaker. Trippy! This allows for four-octive bass lines which make the whole thing really swing. There's also a nice trombone solo.

    The downside: No vocals. Normally almost a dealbreaker But, I mean, duelling pianos! How can you turn that down?!

  • Pinetop's Boogie Woogie (Single) -- Bing Crosby. Man, Bing was really a mellow-sounding old coot, wasn't he? He sounds almost polite when instructing people, "Hold on, now! Stop! ... All right, now! Boogie woogie!"

    It's a big band jazz presentation, too, so all the little piano breaks, which already were sort of over the top in the original, now have seven trillion horns pounding down on them. It's pretty great. The piano playing is very fiddly and melodic and not nearly as riffy as the original, which means that I am unlikely to ever play anything like it. But fun!

And that's all of them. Whee!

Tags: boogie-woogie, music, piano

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