The Ballad of “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” (Remastered)

Ballad: A poem or song narrating a story in short stanzas or verse.


Many years ago, I bought a songbook: Classic Rock Instrumentals.

I bought this book – published in 1992 by the Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation – because it contained “authentic transcriptions with notes and tablature” (by Fred Sokolow) for two 1960s guitar pieces that I grew up with: “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures and “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris.

I soon discovered that the book also contained a treasure trove of guitar classics from the 1950s that I was not so familiar with. Among them were “Rumble” by Link Wray & His Ray Men, “Raunchy” by Bill Justis & His Orchestra, “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy and “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” by The Virtues.

“Guitar Boogie Shuffle” has become a big favorite of mine and as tends to happen, it lately became the impetus of a fascinating search that led me down the links of a rather long chain of remarkable music and musicians.

Verse 1

Frank Virtue (1923-1994) and his Philadelphia-based band The Virtues recorded “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” in 1958 for Hunt Records. 

Frank played bass guitar for The Virtues and the lead guitarist – whose spectacular guitar part was transcribed in Classic Rock Instrumentals – was fellow-Philadelphian James Bruno.

I first heard “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” by The Virtues on the 1994 Rhino Records CD Rock Instrumental Classics, Volume 1: The Fifties.

Here it is from the Hunt Records single with the songwriter credit given to “A. Smith.”

Give a listen!

In 1959, “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” (b/w “Guitar In Orbit”) reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #27 on the Hot R&B Sides chart.

Verse 2

In 1953, The Esquire Boys – another Philadelphia-based band – recorded a piece they called “Guitar Boogie Shuffle.” (They gave songwriter credit to “Arthur Smith.”)  

The lead guitarist for The Esquire Boys was Danny Cedrone (1920-1954). Danny is now best known as the lead guitarist on “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets.

The bass player for The Esquire Boys was Frank Virtue.

Verse 3

South Carolina-born guitarist Arthur Smith (1921-2014) wrote an instrumental he called “Guitar Boogie.” He recorded it in September 1945 accompanied by Don Reno on rhythm guitar and Roy Lear on bass. Originally released on Super Disc Records, the track was listed as being by: The Rambler Trio featuring Arthur Smith – Guitar. In October 1948, “Guitar Boogie” was re-released by MGM Records, but now credited to: Arthur (Guitar Boogie) Smith and His Cracker-Jacks.

In 1949, “Guitar Boogie” spent seven weeks on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart (peaking at #8) and then crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it reached #25.

In his 2013 book, Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Larry Birnbaum quotes Arthur Smith in recalling the inspiration for “Guitar Boogie”: “I guess I picked that up from Tommy Dorsey’s ‘Boogie Woogie,’ ’cause I didn’t listen to country or blues, I listened to big band in those days.”

Verse 4

Trombonist Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956) & his Orchestra recorded “Boogie Woogie” on September 16, 1938 in New York, New York for Victor Records. This arrangement of Clarence Smith’s “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” – created by Deane Kincaide – put the Dorsey Orchestra on the charts in 1938, 1944 and 1945.

Verse 5

LeMoise Roosevelt Graves (1909-1962) and his brother Uaroy (1912-1959) came from Rose Hill, Mississippi. On September 20, 1929, in Richmond, Indiana, they recorded a piece for Paramount Records called “Guitar Boogie.” On the track, Roosevelt plays guitar, Uaroy plays tambourine and they are joined by Will Ezell on piano and Baby Jay (or James) on cornet.

“Guitar Boogie” was released by Paramount as being by Blind Roosevelt Graves & Brother.

Many years later, Ken Romanowski of Document Records wrote that this “Guitar Boogie” was essentially “a slower, countrified version of ‘Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.'”

Verse 6

“Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” was the first recording to have the term “Boogie Woogie” in the title and one of the first recordings of this style of piano music to be a hit.

Alabama-born pianist and composer Clarence Smith (1904-1929) recorded it under the name “Pine Top” Smith on December 29, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois for Vocalion Records.

Verse 7

Chicago pianist Jimmy Blythe (1901-1931) composed and recorded a piece he called “Chicago Stomp” in 1924 for Paramount Records. “Chicago Stomp” is generally considered to be the first example of the “Boogie Woogie” style of piano playing on record.

Verse 8

West African words such as the Hausa “buga” and Mandingo “bug,” both of which mean “to beat” as in “to beat a drum,” may represent the linguistic roots of the word “boogie,” though the words “bogy,” “booger,” and possibly “boogie” have long been common in English slang.

From: Deep Blues (1981) by Robert Palmer.

Boogie Woogie: Originally, a special type of piano blues… characterized by an ostinato bass figure, usually sharply rhythmic, against which the right hand rhapsodizes freely, the sections usually comprising twelve measures and the treatment often being contrapuntal.

From: Harvard Dictionary of Music (1969) by Willi Apel


So, there you have it! I hope you enjoyed that little (?) journey as much as I did.

You know my motto: “Good music doesn’t get old.” 

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2 Responses to The Ballad of “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” (Remastered)

  1. Chuck Rhoades says:

    As much as I love Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, their version of Boogie Woogie sounds like a sanitized version of Pine Top Smith’s original, which is raucous, rocking, and so lively!

    • Clarence “Pine Top” Smith was really something. I love his piano playing and his “rap” throughout the recording. A boogie woogie square dance caller! Thanks for the comment! Always appreciated.

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