Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Boogie On!

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Boogie On!

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "'When I Say Get It': A Brief History of the Boogie" by Burgin Mathews, in Southern Cultures, Fall 2009.

THE BOOGIE IS EVERYWHERE. We say "Let's boogie" to mean "Let's get going." Madonna sings its praises. Country's Johnny Cash, rock 'n" roll's Chuck Berry, the blues' John Lee Hooker, and countless others rode its distinctive propulsive rhythm. Though the word once referred to a very particular musical style, diffusion throughout American culture means that it has come to represent much more than a kind of music. It's all about a certain feeling--and that feeling's a good one, says Burgin Mathews, a writer living in Birmingham, Alabama.

The boogie emerged at the turn of the 20th century and for a time went by a variety of names--barrelhouse, walking the basses, the sixteen, the fives, western rolling blues, and many others. The term didn't appear in print until 1928, when a recording by pianist Clarence "Pine Top" Smith was released with the title "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie." The music may have had many names, but its original sound was distinct--piano music featuring fight--hand improvisations over a heavy left-hand bass pattern, known as a "rolling bass" Often the style is explained as an attempt to translate the sounds of a guitar or banjo to a piano, but Mathews suspects it sprang from another source: the sound of a train. One student of the genre wrote that it represented "the haunting sound of whistles, expresses romping along on a full head of steam, wheels clattering over points and, of course, the insistent rhythm of the driving wheels. …

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