I’ve just come across an amazing discovery.
Researching my new book, ‘150 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, I’ve found what I think just might be the very first prototype rock ‘n’ roll record. If you ignore the first nine seconds, that is.
Composed by Charles ‘Cow Cow’ Davenport, it’s called “Cow Cow Blues” and sung by Dora Carr, who used to tour with Davenport on the now celebrated TOBA* African-American entertainment circuit. Davenport certainly drives his track along on the piano.
Charles and Dora were billed as Davenport & Company, but for some reason Dora takes main billing on this seminal record. Apparently, she left him for another man soon after they recorded Cow Cow Blues. And while I can find very little about Dora and no photographs, I discovered this old1924 press advertisement (for OKeh Records), on the excellent and extremely informative web site, ragpiano.com. I hope they don’t mind me sharing it.
Three years on, Davenport recorded Cow Cow Blues under his own name in Chicago. This was in July 1928. Five months later, he took his protege, Clarence ‘Pine Top’ Smith, into Brunswick’s studio in the Windy City where they recorded “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie”. Davenport’s on record saying he helped arrange and title the track.
Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie was such a massive smash, the hit record named and established boogie woogie as a new musical genre, virtually on its own. It’s gone down in history as the first boogie woogie record simply because it was the first recording with boogie woogie in its title and lyric.
Unfortunately, Pine Top wasn’t around to enjoy any credit as he was shot dead in a Chicago dance hall the very month it was released.
Charles Davenport’s slightly earlier boogie woogie, Cow Cow Blues, was also a success, so much so he became known as Cow Cow Davenport. And while he hasn’t gone down in history as recording the world’s first boogie woogie record, he had no qualms billing himself, “The Man Who Gave America Boogie-Woogie”.
This positioning line is displayed on Cow Cow’s business card, found on another excellent and highly recommended music site, elijahwald.com. Again, I hope Elijah doesn’t mind me sharing this.
While history doesn’t recognise Charles ‘Cow Cow’ Davenport as the man who give America the boogie woogie, let’s hope he will now become recognised as the man who wrote and recorded the world’s first prototype rock ‘n’ roll record.
Not in July, 1928, however. Cow Cow recorded it with Dora in 1925, the year F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby. That’s how long ago it was.
*This was a mainly vaudeville, minstrel, gospel and blues-themed circuit run by America’s Theatre Owners’ Booking Association. While mainly a white organisation, there were exceptions. One black-owned TOBA venue, for example, was the Morton Theatre (still spelt the English way in the 1920s) in Athens, Georgia. This, amongst many other buildings, was owned by the wealthy African-American entrepreneur, Monroe Bowers ‘Pink’ Morton, born to a white father and, according to mortontheatre.com, a mixed-race mother who was a former slave.