When the day’s news is really, really god-awful, as it is every f@*king day lately, the battered soul grasps for something, anything, that might lighten the mood, maybe even provide enough of a distraction that it’d be possible to forget for a second what’s been so upsetting.
How about an old eight-to-the-bar boogie-woogie classic? Try it! It works!
Written by Don Raye, and recorded way back in 1940 by the Will Bradley Orchestra, Down the Road A Piece just has to get your toes tapping, supposing you like music at all – man, if the coroner slapped this on the platter in his dismal basement morgue, a corpse two days cold would be keeping time.
This one has been with me pretty much from the day I was born, and from the way I took to it as a child, I suspect I might have heard it first in the womb. My Dad had it on an old 78 (how long before nobody but the odd techno-geek will know what I mean if I say “78”, or “45” for that matter?) and it was so scratchy that you could barely make out the quieter bit in the middle, which made that wonderful upright bass work almost indiscernible, though you bet I heard it. I think the signal:noise ratio was close to 1:1. Didn’t matter. My brother and I just loved it. It’s a revelation, now, to hear the pristine copy of the master, without all that crackle and hiss. It might not be 64 track digital stereo, but damn, it’s pretty good.
This sort of boogie has in it the germ of all the rock n’roll that came after, and it should come as no surprise to learn that both Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones covered it; it’s just a short step from here to Johnny B. Goode, and if rock n’roll scared the crap out of conservative white folk and evangelicals back in the day, I can’t imagine why this didn’t. Maybe it didn’t seem rebellious, I don’t know, but it sure as death and taxes mates with the same universal, primordial receptors in the brainstem. I bet you could find some remote tribe in the Brazilian rain forest and lay ’em flat in the aisles, as it were.
I’ve always been particularly tickled by the banter that punctuated the music:
Where’s you goin’, I saw you goin’ down the street the other night?
I wasn’t goin’ nowhere, I been where I’s goin.’
That’s all right, I didn’t see you ’til you was plumb out of sight.
I remember Dad’s favourite was Hey, look out where you’re steppin’, that ain’t second base.
Six-year-old Graeme thought those guys must be the coolest dudes who ever lived. Fifty-eight-year-old Graeme thinks so too.
Below, I attach another version that seems to sound much better, it’s really remarkable. Also attached, and well worth your time, is the flip-side from the 78, the marvellous Celery Stalks at Midnight. Finally, there’s Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar, essentially similar to Down The Road A Piece, but still balls of fun.