Listening to pop music today, it seems more and more divorced from the roots of American music, with hardly a trace to be found of soul, blues, jazz, or country. This isn't necessarily a diss, I can enjoy a good Top 40 song in the current computerized mode as much as the next person. However, when recently listening to some Allman Brothers Band records, I looked up their charting positions, and was amazed to find music so rooted in traditional modes to have charted so high. I also got to thinking about how one particular roots music tool, the boogie piano, enjoyed a crazy kind of popularity in the early 1970s. Without further ado, here are some fine (and some merely representative) examples of piano boogie rock.
Allman Brothers Band, "Ramblin' Man"
I mentioned the Allmans in my intro, a band that managed to combine jazz, blues, and rock into a really enjoyable combination. Sadly, the tragic deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley cut that project short. The band could not help to have a different sound, and that sound produced their biggest hit, "Ramblin' Man," which climbed all the way to #2. I am not sure they even allow musicianship in the Top 40 anymore, and certainly not the boogie piano at the base of this song. It's ironic that "Ramblin' Man" is not representative of the Allmans' usual sound, but it's a song that never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Bachman Turner Overdrive, "Takin' Care of Business"
Regular commenter Brian I. told me the back-story to this song, one of my favorite rock and roll recording stories ever. Due to the "husky" size of its members, wags often referred to BTO as "Bachman Turner Overweight." As the story goes, they were cutting "Takin' Care of Business" in the studio when they got some pizzas delivered (natch, although my internet research tells me they were being delivered to the Steve Miller Band.) The pizza guy heard the playback, and told them they could use some boogie piano on it, which he provided, being that he was an accomplished musician. Not only that, he did it in one take. This song is one of those lame warhorses of classic rock radio that needs to be put out to pasture or put out of its mercy, but that killer piano still stands out.
Led Zeppelin, "Boogie With Stu"
Ian Stewart is one of my favorite figures in rock history. He was an original member of the Rolling Stones and an absolute beast of a boogie piano player. Unfortunately he was a square-jawed Scot who did not fit the Stones' hip, bad-boy image. That led to Stu being dropped from the band, although he did become their road manager and played on many Stones tracks. However, I would like to highlight his cameo on Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti album. When I first heard it I thought of it as a minor track on a double album that contained the likes of "Kashmir" and "Ten Years Gone." Nowadays it's one of my favorites, mostly due to Stu's relentlessly driving, rollicking piano, which gives the sometimes portentous Zeppelin a fun break from hobbits and demons.
The Faces, "You're So Rude"
The Faces were the kings of 70s boogie rock, and keyboardist Ian McLagen could lay it down like few others. On a rare Ronnie Lane vocal (as opposed to Rod Stewart), McLagen's gutbucket piano perfectly compliments Lane's raunchy story of interrupted love on a rainy Sunday.
Elvis Presley, "Burning Love"
Hey, even Elvis got in on the early 70s boogie wave with his last great single, "Burning Love." It's got a great Presley vocal, but the chugging piano pretty much makes the song.