April 23 marks the 122nd anniversary of the birth of the Man that Gave America Boogie Woogie, Charles “Cow Cow” Davenport. Since it also marks my own birthday, that makes it a very special occasion, and thusly, I hope to offer a very special presentation.
Charles Edward Davenport was born in Anniston, Alabama on April 23, 1894. He took up the piano at the age of twelve. Davenport’s father was a pastor, and opposed his son’s musical interests, sending him away to a seminary to continue in his father’s work. The young Charles was kicked out the the seminary for playing ragtime. He began his professional career playing boogie woogie piano in medicine shows and touring the TOBA vaudeville circuit. In 1924, Davenport made his debut recordings as an accompanist for his vaudeville partner Dora Carr for Okeh Records, recording his trademark composition, “Cow Cow Blues”, one of the earliest instances of boogie woogie piano on record, from which he got his nickname. After Okeh, Cow Cow several records for Paramount, and recorded fairly prolifically, solo and as an accompanist. By the later 1920s, he was working with a new partner, Ivy Smith, and recording for Vocalion records, with whom he made a larger number of sides. He also worked as a talent scout for Vocalion, bringing in such talent as Clarence “Pine Top” Smith. Composed by Davenport were such classics as “Mama Don’t Allow It” and supposedly “You Rascal You”, which he claimed to have sold to Sam Theard. In the early 1930s, he took up in Cleveland, Ohio, which remained his home for the rest of his life. In 1938, Davenport suffered a stroke that caused minor paralysis in his right hand that forced him to temporarily retire from music and take menial jobs, and impeded his playing for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, he continued to perform and record. In 1942, his name was put up in lights when Freddie Slack’s Orchestra had a smash hit with “Cow Cow Boogie”, no doubt taking its name from the aging piano man. His final years plagued by ill health, Cow Cow Davenport died of heart failure on December 12, 1955 in Cleveland.
Vocalion 1198 was recorded in Chicago on July 16, 1928 featuring Cow Cow Davenport on piano assisted by his vaudeville partner, Ivy Smith on one side. Two known takes of each side were recorded that day, and both are presented here. Takes “A” come from the original issue, and takes “B” are from the 1943 reissue on Brunswick 80022.
Davenport first plays solo on his eponymous song “Cow Cow Blues”, deriving its name from the cowcatchers mounted on the front of old steam engines.
On the reverse, Davenport is joined by the vocals of his stage partner Ivy Smith on “State Street Jive”. “What kinda piano player is this?” Smith asks on take “B” of this tune.