Blues pianist Pine Top Smith is credited as the originator of term "Boogie Woogie" and one of the first Boogie Woogie style players. His 1928 recording of "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" on Vocalion records is the first known commercial boogie woogie record. Smith coined the term "Boogie-Woogie" with that recording and influenced all future recordings of boogie woogie. Pine Top's songs "Boogie Woogie" and "Jump Steady Blue" were hits that started the national Boogie Woggie dance craze. Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra's 1938 recording of Pinetop's "Boogie Woogie" re-titled "Boogie Woogie" became a five million selling record during and after World War II. Pinetop's recording of the "Boogie Woogie" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1983.
He Came from Alabama to Pittsburgh
Clarence "Pinetop" Smith was born in Orion, Alabama in 1904. His childhood habit of climbing trees earned him the nickname Pinetop. He grew up in Troy near Birmingham, Alabama where he taught himself the piano. He worked as a pianist at house parties in Troy before moving on to Birmingham, where he sometimes worked with Robert McCoy. As a teenager he worked as a piano player, dancer and comedian on minstrel and vaudeville tours appearing in tent shows and small theaters. In 1919 he was appeared with "Mattie Dorsey's Big Four" at a show in Memphis, Tennessee.
Pinetop moved to Pittsburgh in 1920 where he worked as an entertainer at several Wyle Avenue Clubs. In a 1939 interview with Downbeat magazine, Smith’s wife Sarah Horton said that her husband first played his song "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in Pittsburgh. Pinetop met blues singer Ma Rainey in Pittsburgh and became her accompanist. He toured backing Ma Rainey and the popular act Butterbeans & Susie on the TOBA circuit.
In in interview with the Chicage Tribune pianist Cow Cow Davenport and Vocalian Records talent scout reported that he first saw Pinetop Smith in Pittsburgh "I happened to hit in Pittsburgh at the Star Theater on Wylie Avenue. ... I went with a friend of mine to the Sachem Alley, and there I found Pinetop Smith."
Recording in Chicago
On Cow Cow Davenport's recommendation Pinetop moved with his family to Chicago in 1928 in hopes of recording with Vocalian Records. In Chicago Pinetop met pianists Albert Ammons and Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis and lived in the same rooming house with them. Meade "Lux" Lewis in an interview with the Pittsburgh Courier said before Pinetop came up with the term "Boogie Woogie" he and Albert Ammons called their style of music "playing the fives".
Pinetop made a living performing on the Chicago rent party and club circuit. True to his word Cow Cow Davenport introduced Pinetop to Mayo Williams of Vocalion Records. Mayo recorded Pinetop playing "Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” at a Vocalion session on December 29th of 1928. It became a hit in 1929.
Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie is one of the earliest uptempo dance recordings. The lyrics urge the listeners to dance.
"Now, when I tell you to hold yourself, don't you move a peg. And when I tell you to get it, I want you to Boogie Woogie!"Pinetop recorded six more sides for Vocalion on January 14 and 15 of 1929 including the songs "I'm Sober Now", "Jump Steady Blues" and the Bessie Smith song "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out". His last recording made at Vocalion on March 13 1929 was never released.
Pinetop Smiih died from guns shot wounds at the age of 25 on March 14, 1929 when he was struck by a stray bullet fired by a man who was trying to break up a fight at the Prince Hall Masonic Temple dance in Chicago. His was playing the piano when he was hit. Pinetop left behind a young widow, two children, less than a dozen recorded songs, and "Boogie Woogie".
Cleo Brown popularized "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" again with a recording in in 1935. Bing Crosby and Lionel Hampton recorded it in 1942. Joe Willie Perkins scored a hit record with "Pinetop's Booggie in 1950 and changed his name to Pinetop Perkins.
Clarence "Pinetop" Smith" was inducted into of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991.