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East Chicago Blues

"The rich history of piano blues has been overshadowed by the story of boogie-woogie piano. This Chicago-centric tale not only places Albert Ammons and Meade 'Lux' Lewis at the pinnacle of the art form, but also, falsely, at the center the story.

"As it is now told, a crude and primitive style of blues piano is forged in the barrelhouse bars of Texas; the sound migrates north to Chicago, and is perfected into the virtuosic - ubiquitous - style we know today.

"What's wrong with this story? Everything! But let's just touch on two things:

"Firstly, it discounts 20+ years of incredible African-American folk-art as merely a developmental time for the music. (It'd be like saying Robert Johnson was a step on the way to Muddy Waters perfection of blues guitar!) Call it pre-war piano blues, barrelhouse blues, or boogie-woogie, this music, by at least the early 1920s, was a fully formed expression.

"Secondly, and more important for this video, the story leaves out St. Louis! This is a tremendous oversight, for St. Louis, in the 20s and 30s, was a Mecca for piano blues.

"Practitioners included The Sparks Brothers, Henry Brown, Roosevelt Sykes, Stump Johnson, just to name a few.

"This tune, by Aaron 'Pinetop' Sparks (his twin brother Marion 'Lindberg' Sparks sang vocals) is a great example of the St. Louis style.

"Like most of his fellow St. Louisians, he didn't play with the flash of his Chicago contemporaries, but Pinetop Sparks was an incredibly inventive pianist with a uniquely melodic style and a free-and-easy groove."


See also: Smokin' Billy Slater.


Comments welcome.


Posted on April 17, 2014

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