Big Joe Turner (b. Kansas City, 1911; d. 1985) started out as a blues shouter in the pre-microphone days, and sang the blues during seven decades (1920's to 1980's). He took a job in hometown Kansas City in 1929 as a bartender, and while he was mixing drinks, he'd sing whenever the spirit moved him, loud enough to accompany boogie woogie pianist Pete Johnson from across a crowded nightclub. The two played together all through the 30's and 40's, a style of boogie which was presented to the world in the famous "From Spirituals To Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall in NYC, in 1938. This concert billed African-American music in all its various forms, from the spirituals of the slavery years, to swing, which was just becoming popular. Big Joe and Pete played at that concert, which was the Woodstock of the 1930's, because anybody who played it became a star. It was this concert that started the boogie woogie revival of the late 1930's.
"Boss Of The Blues," Turner was the chief inspiration for Wynonie Harris and the "rocking blues" style of the mid-40's, but his own inspiration was Ethel Waters, "The only blues singer I truly adored." It should be remembered that Turner was mainly a blues singer, and his early boogie and rock and roll recordings were spread fairly thinly among his slower blues and ballads. Still, he is best remembered for doing the original version, in 1954, of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," one of the first rock 'n' roll tunes to cross over into the mainstream. His greatest recordings were made in the mid-50's for Atlantic Records, these records are the cream of the crop of one of the all-time greatest singers of the blues. Big Joe Turner's recording career spanned from 1938 to 1983.
Turner's long-time pianist, Pete Johnson (b. Kansas City, 1904; d. 1967) became one of the established giants of boogie woogie piano in the 30's and 40's. He began as a drummer in Kansas City, but switched to the piano there in 1926. He began working in clubs right away, and making records, on his own as often as with Big Joe. The famous record "Roll Em Pete" is his namesake.
Due to the success of the 1938 gig at Carnegie Hall, Johnson, as well as the powerhouse boogie pianist Albert Ammons, who also played there that night, were in demand whenever the best of the best needed a strong boogie man. Two weeks after the gig, Pete and Big Joe were pulled into the recording studio at Columbia and cut, among other songs, "Roll 'em Pete," a record which now stands as one of the true classics in the history of jazz and blues. The record was basically the same as the selection below called "That's All Right Baby," which was recorded live at the concert. That same week, Ammons and Johnson cut the first recordings for a brand new label, Blue Note Records. In 1941, he and Ammons appeared with Lena Horne in the short film "Boogie Woogie Dream." In that movie, the two greats donned tuxedos, sat down on separate baby grands, and did a fabulous four-fisted boogie with amazing power. (It's available on video). Johnson played for years with the musicians of his era, teaming many more times on disc with Turner, but a stroke forced him to slow down in the 60's. Turner continued on, ending his recording career by singing an album for "Roomful Of Blues" in 1983.
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