Friday, October 9, 2009

Hillbilly Boogie and Western Swing - A Few Classics

One of the more interesting strains of American Roots Music that advances the genesis of rockabilly is "Hillbilly Boogie." Related in many ways to Western Swing, this style's origin is rooted in boogie - woogie piano styles that take us back to Meade Lux Lewis in the 1920's and the broader popularity in the 1930's, spearheaded by Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. By the 1940's, the Delmore Brothers had begun to embrace the boogie woogie style and helped launch its popularity among musicians recording in the country western music scene. At the same time, Western Swing was evolving along similar lines in Texas in Louisiana, and polka and some jazz based rhythms to the style. Both Hillbilly Boogie and Western Swing were essentially dance music genres whose popularity coincided wit the rise of honky tonk dance clubs in the south and western states. Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma and it's association with Bob Wills is a legendary venue from the late 1930's, as are the famous California Western Swing Ballrooms: Venice Pier Ballroom of Spade Cooley fame, the Riverside Rancho and the Santa Monica Ballroom, all very popular in the late thirties up to through the end of the WW II.

Hillbilly Boogie is characterized by and upbeat tempo, steel guitar, traditional and electric guitar and, as in jazz, an allotted lead space for featured instruments. Many of the electric guitar solos here are outstanding examples of the convergence of jazz and country sounds. In contrast to later rockabilly, percussion is not present, heavy bass lines are. Collectors on youtube have been putting up a quite a bit of this fascinating style that predominated country music during the war years before the unique amalgamations of the 1950's emerged.

1) Tex Williams: A little humor and advice in Tex's style and the band is tight and top notch with a jazz based sound. Check out "Never Trust A Woman" from 1947. Great western swing guitar lead.

2) Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West: The famous duo is caught live here on a boogie number here. Jimmy has a searing guitar solo and Speedy follows suit. Nice piano too. Superb.

3) Johnny Lee Wills: Coyote Blues is a quintessential boogie woogie number by another of Bob's bothers.

4) Zeb Turner: No More Nothing is from the early 1950's and is a fantastic example of the hillbilly boogie sound featuring piano, steel guitar and electric guitar. Outstanding work here by one of the most important forerunners to rockabilly.

5) Moon Mullican: Cush Cush Ky Yay is a classic cajunesque boogie by the pianist Mullican, one of the kings of the genre who helped build the bridge to rockabilly and rock n' roll.

6) Red Smith/Luke McDaniel/Jeff Daniels: Whoa Boy is listed as a rockabilly number on youtube but I would classify it in the hillbilly boogie genre. Nonetheless, an outstanding number by Red, aka Luke McDaniel. Some very nice guitar work and vocals.

7) Eddie Hill: The Hot Guitar is an absolute gem of the genre with some outstanding guitar work in classic medley style imitation of some of the other greats in jazz and country. "Smilin Eddie" was a deejay who worked to advance the popularity of the style. Could be Hank Garland of guitar.

8) Luke Wills: Take Me Back live here with brother Bob.

9) Casey Simmons: Jukebox Boogie is an obscure cut in the genre with some great piano work.

10) Spade Cooley: Steel Guitar Rag is a classic instrumental by Spade, one of the founding fathers of Western Swing. Wonderful guitar break.

11) George Stogner: Hard Top Race, from the mid 1950's, is situated within the enormous "auto race" genre which is boogie with a real rockabilly feel. Very nice guitar and piano leads from this largely forgotten musician.