Watch the Boogie Woogie Pattern online guitar lesson by Jeff McErlain from Blues Survival Guide: Rhythm Edition
We are not sure where the term Boogie Woogie came from but its musical roots can be traced back to the late 1880's in Texas as a form of dance music. An often overlooked fact is that blues itself is dance music. With slavery abolished in 1865 and the Civil Rights Act to follow almost 100 years later, African Americans were subject to Jim Crow Laws and were not welcome in white run establishments, many were forced to work hard labor jobs like share cropping, plantation work, turpentine camps, logging, etc. and lived in abject poverty. The time to blow off steam on the weekends was at the Barrelhouse or Juke Joint. Many of these informal social clubs worked outside of the law or were on plantations run by the plantation owners as a way to keep track of the workers and to keep their money inside the company. These juke joints were often very dangerous places where the chances of getting into fights or much or much was very high. Legend has it that Robert Johnson was poisoned at one night for making advances on another man's woman. The boogie style developed from the piano players left hand rhythm that is so familiar to us today. Since he was usually the only musician and people wanted to dance this pattern largely functions as a complete band. This rhythmic pattern is the cornerstone of the blues. It is very easy to sell something as basic as a boogie woogie pattern like this short, "Ah, that's easy". But it has been my experience more often than not with students (and others) that they have trouble nailing it. Granted it's not technically difficult, but to make it sound like Lightin' Hopkins, Hubert Sumlin, or Eric Clapton is something else entirely and something I continue to strive for. We can see an underlying theme here that sometimes the easy stuff ain't that easy. The key here is to play behind the beat a bit, that basically mean a relaxed feel as opposed to playing right on the beat.