What is Boogie-Woogie Music?

An early boogie-woogie compilation LP

Originating in the lumber camps of East Texas, the relatively slow, heavily syncopated style of blues piano known as "boogie-woogie" was to have a tremendous influence on the development of American popular music. It was wildly popular among urban blues musicians after its introduction to vinyl on Pinetop Smith's classic 1928 disc "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie"; it became a bonafide crossover craze in the early Forties, influencing several swing bands immeasurably; R&B-inclined jazz heads took a shine to it in the postwar years.

(Previously, the style was referred to as "Fast Texas Blues" or "Fast Western Blues," which was a nod to two things: the Texas Western railroad that connected many of the logging camps, and the slower blues of places like New Orleans. It's been speculated that the rhythm of boogie-woogie was specifically related to the chugging rhythm of the rails.) 

By the early Fifties, the form had mutated into three other genres it's commonly mistaken for: slowed-down and swung with a heavy backbeat, it became one of the principal components of rock and roll (see Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll"), while those who ramped up the beat and simplified it found themselves playing what would come to be known as "jump blues" (see Little Richard's "Rip It Up"), and early guitar heroes who transferred the eight-bar walking rhythm of the pianist's left hand to their fretboard -- instead of to the acoustic slap bass, where other bands placed it -- played the blues that came to be known simply as "boogie" (begun by John Lee Hooker on songs like "Boom Boom" and made most famous by white blues bands like ZZ Top on "Hush").

You can also hear the boogie woogie influence on rockabilly Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," and Chuck Berry cites it as a direct influence for his gently swinging straight rock and roll, most notably in more moderate numbers like "Almost Grown" and "Little Queenie." And you can find several rewrites of early boogie standards like Ray Charles' "Mess Around," a take on Cow Cow Davenport's "Cow Cow Boogie." The real stuff, however, always features that walking piano bass, moving through the blues scale in a one-four-five progression.

Also Known As: Boogie, Barrelhouse


  1. "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie," Pinetop Smith
  2. "Cow Cow Blues," Cow Cow Davenport
  3. "Roll 'Em Pete," Pete Johnson
  4. "Swanee River Boogie," Albert Ammons
  5. "Honky Tonk Train Blues," Meade Lux Lewis
  6. "Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar," Will Bradley
  7. "Saturday Night Boogie-Woogie Man," Jimmy Liggins
  8. "Caldonia," Louis Jordan
  9. "Hey! La Bas," Fats Domino
  10. "Honey Hush," Big Joe Turner