Pinetop Smith

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Pinetop Smith
Birth nameClarence Smith
Born(1904-06-11)June 11, 1904
Troy, Alabama, U.S.
DiedMarch 15, 1929(1929-03-15) (aged 24)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
  • Musician
  • comedian
  • Piano
  • vocals
Years activec. 1920–1929

Clarence "Pinetop" Smith (June 11, 1904 – March 15, 1929),[1] was an American boogie-woogie style blues pianist. His hit tune "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" featured rhythmic "breaks" that were an essential ingredient of ragtime music, but also a fundamental foreshadowing of rock and roll.[2] The song was also the first known use of the term "boogie woogie" on a record, and cemented that term as the moniker for the genre.


Smith was born in Troy, Alabama and raised in Birmingham, Alabama.[1] He received his nickname as a child from his liking for climbing trees.[3] In 1920 he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,[4] where he worked as an entertainer before touring on the Theatre Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) vaudeville circuit, performing as a singer and comedian as well as a pianist. For a time, he worked as accompanist for blues singer Ma Rainey[1] and Butterbeans and Susie.

In the mid-1920s, he was recommended by Cow Cow Davenport to J. Mayo Williams at Vocalion Records, and in 1928 he moved, with his wife and young son, to Chicago, Illinois to record.[1] For a time he, Albert Ammons, and Meade Lux Lewis lived in the same rooming house.[5]

On December 29, 1928, he recorded his influential "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie", one of the first "boogie woogie" style recordings to make a hit, and which cemented the name for the style.[5] It was also the first recording to have the phrase 'boogie woogie' in the song's title.[6] Smith talks over the recording, telling how to dance to the number.[2] He said he originated the number at a house-rent party in St. Louis, Missouri. Smith was the first ever to direct "the girl with the red dress on" to "not move a peg" until told to "shake that thing" and "mess around". Similar lyrics are heard in many later songs, including "Mess Around" and "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles.

Smith was scheduled to make another recording session for Vocalion in 1929, but died from a gunshot wound in a dance-hall fight in Chicago the day before the session.[1][5] Sources differ as to whether he was the intended recipient of the bullet. "I saw Pinetop spit blood" was a headline in DownBeat magazine in 1939.[7]

No photographs of Smith are known to exist.[3]

78 rpm singles - Vocalion Records[edit]

1245 "Pinetop's Blues" December 29, 1928
1245 "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie"[8] December 29, 1928
1256 "Big Boy They Can't Do That"[8] January 15, 1929
1256 "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out"[8] January 15, 1929
1266 "I'm Sober Now"[8] January 14, 1929
1266 "I Got More Sense Than That"[8] January 14, 1929
1298 "Jump Steady Blues"[8] January 15, 1929
1298 "Now I Ain't Got Nothing At All"[8] January 15, 1929


Smith was acknowledged by other boogie-woogie pianists such as Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson as a key influence, and he gained posthumous fame when "Boogie Woogie" was arranged for big band and recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra in 1938.[2] Although not immediately successful, "Boogie Woogie" was so popular during and after World War II[9] that it became Dorsey's best-selling record, with over five million copies sold. Bing Crosby (recorded January 21, 1946 with Lionel Hampton's Orchestra)[10] and Count Basie also issued their versions of the song.[2]

From the 1950s, Joe Willie Perkins became universally known as "Pinetop Perkins" for his recording of "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie".[11] Perkins later became Muddy Waters's pianist. When he was in his nineties, he recorded a song on his 2004 album Ladies' Man, which played on the by-then common misconception that he had written "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie".

Ray Charles adapted "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" for his song "Mess Around", for which the authorship was credited to "A. Nugetre", Ahmet Ertegun.

In 1975, the Bob Thiele Orchestra recorded a modern jazz album called I Saw Pinetop Spit Blood, which included a treatment of "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" as well as the title song.

Gene Taylor recorded a version of "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" on his eponymous 2003 album.[12]

Claes Oldenburg, the pop artist, proposed a Pinetop Smith Monument in his book Proposals for Monuments and Buildings 1965–69. Oldenburg described the monument as "a wire extending the length of North Avenue, west from Clark Street, along which at intervals runs an electric impulse colored blue so that there's one blue line as far as the eye can see. Pinetop Smith invented boogie woogie blues at the corner of North and Larrabee, where he finally was murdered: the electric wire is 'blue' and dangerous."[13]

Awards and honors[edit]

Smith was a posthumous 1991 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Clarence Pinetop Smith". The Blues Trail. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 165. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  3. ^ a b Silvester, Peter J. (1989). The Story of Boogie-Woogie: A Left Hand Like God. Scarecrow Press. pp. 66–73. ISBN 978-0810869240.
  4. ^ Edwards, James (Fall 2007). "Innovators: Pine Top Smith". Western Pennsylvania History. 90 (3). Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania: 6–7. ISSN 1525-4755.
  5. ^ a b c Giles Oakley (1997). The Devil's Music. Da Capo Press. p. 159/160. ISBN 978-0-306-80743-5.
  6. ^ Robert Palmer (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-14-006223-6.
  7. ^ Pease, Sharon (October 1, 1939). "I Saw Pinetop Spit Blood and Fall: The Life and Death of Clarence Smith, Creator of Boogie-Woogie". Down Beat. Vol. 6, no. 10. p. 4. ISSN 0012-5768.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Vocalion 78rpm numerical listing discography: 1000 - 1499 race series". Retrieved June 16, 2022.
  9. ^ Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. Tape 2, side A.
  10. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  11. ^ "2000 NEA National Heritage Fellowships". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved August 22, 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ "Answers - The Most Trusted Place for Answering Life's Questions". Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  13. ^ "The Poetry of Scale" (PDF). Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  14. ^ "Inductees". Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on April 3, 2013. Retrieved August 22, 2017.

External links[edit]