25 - The Earliest Sheet-Music Publication of a Boogie Woogie Bass Figure

by John Tennison — History of Boogie Woogie

George Washington Thomas, Jr., is credited by Clarence Williams as playing with a Boogie Woogie bass figure in 1911 in Houston, Texas.  Moreover, Clarence Williams credits Thomas with being the first man to write down a Boogie Woogie bass figure.  However, George Thomas did not publish his Boogie Woogie bass figure until 1916 in his “New Orleans Hop Scop Blues.”  In 1915, Artie Matthews published what is an undisputed Boogie Woogie broken-octave walking bass figure in his “The Weary Blues.”  Although some might argue that Blind Boone’s 1909 sheet music publication of “Southern Rag Medley No. 2” would constitute the first “Boogie Woogie” bass figure, such a claim is disputable for reasons that I have argued above.  However, “the cows,” which appears in a classic 12-bar form in “The Weary Blues” is a classic, undisputed Boogie Woogie bass figure, and one that is reported to have originated in Texas.5, 68

The bass figure used by Matthews in “The Weary Blues” is what has been clearly identified as “the cows,” one of the oldest Boogie Woogie bass figures that is said by Lee Ree Sullivan to have originated in Texas, and was also known as the “Texas and Pacific Bass” figure.  Sullivan told me that “the cows” originally referred to the grace-noted right-handed figure that was meant to suggest the sound of cows being pushed away by the cow catcher grill at the front of steam locomotives.  However, Sullivan said because the right-handed figure was usually accompanied by the left-handed “Texas and Pacific Bass,” the bass figure (which was intended to represent the sound of the steam locomotive), came also to be known as “the cows”.68 [The Texas & Pacific Railroad has a well-documented history of the significant challenges posed by cows on its tracks.]  Moreover, Paul Oliver says that Cow Cow Davenport also borrowed “the cows” for use in his “Cow Cow Blues,” after having heard it being used in Texas.5

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