Classic Country: Legends of Country Music

By Charles K. Wolfe | Go to book overview
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Johnny Barfield

Tracing back the history of a particular style in country music can sometimes lead into strange byways. Through the 1940s, there was a fad in the music for “country boogie,” exemplified by hits like Moon Mullican’s “Cherokee Boogie,” Arthur Smith’s “Guitar Boogie,” the Turner Brothers’ “Zeb’s Mountain Boogie,” and even a “Hadacol Boogie,” named after a well-known patent medicine. The original “Boogie Woogie” was a driving eight-to-the-bar piano solo by a Chicago pianist named Pine Top Smith. He had recorded it in 1928, and it became a major hit, but Pine Top didn’t get to enjoy it: He was shot and killed in 1929. A big-band version of his song became an even bigger hit in 1938 when it was recorded by bandleader Tommy Dorsey, and in the late 1930s there was a renewed interest in traditional boogie woogie pianists like Albert Ammons and Meade Luxe Lewis.

Pine Top Smith’s original “Boogie Woogie” described a hip-shaking dance as much as a style of music, and many country lyrics followed suit. And though stars from Hank Williams to Moon Mullican cut boogie numbers, it was a remarkable Georgia singer that hardly anyone remembers today who really was first to use the term “Boogie” in a country song, and the first to record a country version of the popular dance. This was a performer named Johnny Barfield. On August 21, 1939, Barfield reported to the temporary Victor/Bluebird studio at the Kimball House in downtown Atlanta and did four sentimental songs, such as “In a Sleepy Country Town.” Accompanied by only his guitar, he then launched into something that was far from sentimental:


Down in Atlanta, on Decatur Street,
They got a new dance that can’t be beat,
They call the boogie woogie,
They call the boogie woogie,
Everybody’s doing the boogie woogie now.

-152-

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