The driving left-hand blues style known as boogie-woogie appeared around 1900 It began to surface in saloons, honky-tonks, bawdy houses, and "barrelhouses" in the South and Midwest around 1912.
"Barrelhouse" became synonymous with boogie-woogie. Music was generally supplied by a single pianist on an instrument in a questionable state of repair. The strongest possible expression of rhythm was therefore necessary, and the boogie bass supplied it perfectly. Primitive, gutsy, driving, it could be heard above the noise of the crowd and would work, at least in some keys, if the piano was missing a few keys.
Boogie-woogie spread more rapidly in the black community in the 1920s, became a national fad from 1938 to about 1945, and then rapidly faded from view. Yet it has remained a permanent favorite in the repertoire of most intermediate to advanced pianists, with some specialists still around. The first major popular recording artists to emerge from the field were Clarence "Pine Top" Smith (1904-1929) and Jimmy Yancey (1898-1951). The next generation of famous boogie players included Albert Ammons,Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis.
Meade Anderson Lewis was born September 4, 1905, in Chicago, from a musical family. He acquired the nickname "Lux" because as a child he would imitate the excessively polite comic strip characters Alphonse and Gaston, calling himself the Duke of Luxembourg.
His father insisted he play the violin as a child. At age 16, when his father died, Lewis switched to the piano after hearing local boogie-woogie pianist Jimmy Yancey. Lewis was entirely self-taught on piano. He was a boyhood friend of Albert Ammons, and together they studied the music of Jimmy Yancey and other Chicago blues pianists. They also drove taxis together around 1924.
Lewis recorded "Honky Tonk Train Blues," in 1927, a driving boogie based on the sounds of the trains that rumbled past his boyhood home on South La Salle Street in Chicago as many as a hundred times a day. The record was released 18 months later in 1929, but attracted little attention. The recording company, Paramount, went out of business, and the record became almost impossible to obtain. In 1933, jazz promoter/producer John Hammond obtained a copy of Lewis's recording. He was so impressed with it that he embarked on a two-year search for the pianist. Hammond found Lewis in 1935, through Albert Ammons. Hammond found Lewis washing cars in a Chicago garage. After a few days practice, Lewis got "Honky Tonk Train Blues" back up to speed, and Hammond arranged a recording session to re-record it. The following year Hammond recorded Lewis's other classic, "Yancey Special" and booked him in a concert in New York. Following the concert, Lewis performed at Nick's in Greenwich Village for six weeks, and then returned to Chicago.