Last Thursday, June 11, marked the 111th birthday of boogie woogie pioneer Clarence “Pine Top” Smith, who was born on that day in 1904. While Smith was not the first pianist to play in that style, his “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” is believed to be the first recorded song to use the term “boogie woogie” in its title*.
Clarence Smith was born in Troy, Alabama, and got his nickname from his childhood fondness for tree-climbing. In 1928, Cow Cow Davenport recommended him to Vocalion Records, and he recorded eight sides with them in three sessions in December 1928 and January 1929. On March 15, 1929, Pine Top Smith was shot dead at the age of 24 during a fight in a dance-hall a day before he had a recording session scheduled. Whether or not the bullet was intended for him is disputed.
On the first side of Vocalion 1245, Pine Top Smith plays his famous “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie”, take “A”, with his spoken instructions to dancers, recorded December 29, 1928 in Chicago, his first recording session. Just the sort of a performance that you’d hear at a 1920s rent party.
Contrary to what he might have had us believe, Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins was not the originator of “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie”, he got his name from playing Clarence Smith’s composition, which Smith claimed he came up with at a house-rent party in St. Louis, Missouri. It also made a hit in 1938 when it was recorded by Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra as simply “Boogie Woogie”. Please read Mr. Brad Kay’s comment for a definitive explanation.
On the flip, Pine Top sings on another fine boogie woogie number, “Pine Top Blues”, take “B”, recorded on the same day, which lifts some of its lyrics from other popular blues songs of the day.