Perhaps inspired by Miss Pop Rocks’s ill-fated trips through Wikipedia’s labyrinths of information, I set out this morning to round up a few of the worst tribute bands on YouTube and wound up sidetracked with this little video treatise on the boogie.
So, y’all ready to boogie? I don’t mean disco-boogie, I mean primal one-chord boogie like you’re crab-walking through ninety degree heat in a Mississippi cotton field with a full Mason jar full of corn liquor coursing through your veins and the devil in your soul.
I’m gonna skip over ZZ Top and John Lee Hooker and jump off with some lesser-known lights.
All right, then, let’s go. Hey, it’s Friday, people.
Magic Sam’s death at 32 in 1969 was one of the worst tragedies to ever befall the blues. There never has been a guy who combined charisma, a soaring tenor voice and devastating guitar in one package. Here he does his boogie:
But you should also watch him here talking about his life and singing. And if you don’t have his album West Side Soul, you’re missing out on one of the central pillars of Western Civilization.
Earl Hooker wasn’t the singer Magic Sam was, but he was an even better guitarist and showman. He also had a wicked sense of humor, as demonstrated on this clip, wherein he half-kiddingly, half-seriously covers Ernest Tubb’s country smash “Walkin’ the Floor Over You.” (He also says he is in Houston at the time, but I don’t know if that’s part of his hillbilly shtick or not. Like Sam and Hound Dog Taylor (below), Hooker was a Mississippian transplant to Chicago.)
At any rate, after his country foray, he takes and lays waste to the stage with one of the most rock and roll performances on film.
Another thing he had in common with Magic Sam was a tragic demise. Hooker would be dead of tuberculosis with a year or so of the time this footage was made.
I am gonna throw one non-boogie song in here: Robert Nighthawk’s “Goin’ Down to Eli’s,” which is more of a straight blues. It’s off his album Live on Maxwell Street, which just might be the greatest live blues album ever. It was recorded in Chicago’s old Maxwell Street open-air market on the South Side in 1964. I wish our farmer’s markets were more like this. Or more shows were like this for that matter. The blues gets no bluesier than this:
Hound Dog Taylor had six fingers and six toes on each of his extremities. He liked to say “I can’t play shit, but I sure do make it sound good.”
Hound Dog was the guy George Thorogood built a whole career on. Then, a generation later, the Black Keys did the same thing. Hell, so did just about every one of those blues-based duos. None came close to capturing this kind of joyful mayhem:
Now let’s leave Chicago behind and take it way down in there. Wayyyy down in there, like B.B. said on Live at the Regal.
Here’s some 24-year-old footage of R.L. Burnside doing “Poor Black Mattie,” one of the oldest boogies.
Burnside kept the boogie alive for another generation, as did trance-boogie monster Junior Kimbrough. Here’s Kimbrough doing one of his North Mississippi boogie mantras.
And now let’s take it even further, let’s ditch the guitars and hit up some of Othar Turner’s fife-and-drum boogie.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
This music is documented as going back to the days of the American Revolution, but I think it goes back farther than that. Like all the way back to the source:
-- John Nova Lomax