Blues You Can Use: The "Boogaloo Zone"

The area where jazz, blues, R&B, and latin music intersect is a fertile quarter I call the “Boogaloo Zone.”
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The area where jazz, blues, R&B, and latin music intersect is a fertile quarter I call the “Boogaloo Zone.” In the early 1960s, jazz artists started latching onto funkier, quasi-Latin feels, presumably to take advantage of the rising popularity of the Latin craze that brought bossa nova, mambo, and salsa to American radio. The boogaloo feel is interpreted several ways, sometimes with a swing undercurrent like the Lee Morgan classic “The Sidewinder,” straight funk like Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo,” or with a more direct link to Latin music, such as Horace Silver’s “The Jody Grind.” One tune that has made its way into the blues repertoire is “Chitlins Con Carne” by the great jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. Recorded in 1963, the track finds the master bop player working with straightforward blues-scale runs over a funky Latin-swing groove. Boogaloo was not only employed by straightahead jazzers looking for a greater market share, it also permeated the blues genre, and it really took a hold on the work of harmonica player Junior Wells. His song “Messing With the Kid” is a certified blues standard, and it’s a great early example of the blues boogaloo. With Junior’s flair for the funkier side of things already well established, his 1965 album Hoodoo Man Blues (with Buddy Guy on guitar) featured a collection of tunes that leaned heavily toward the boogaloo feel—including this month’s subject.

Appearing on the recording is bassist Jack Meyers, a player I have written about more than once for his inventive approach to the blues, and his line on “Chitlins” is no exception. Essentially a minor blues, “Chitlins” gets a little harmonic reworking at the hands on Mr. Wells. The original Kenny Burrell version employs a typical 12-bar form with the I, IV, and V chords placed where you would expect, but Wells replaces the final V–IV–I cadence with a bIII–II–I movement somewhat reminiscent of the 1961 hit “Comin’ Home Baby.” Other notable blues versions of this tune were performed by Otis Rush, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters, and Paul Oscher. On the jazz side of things, start with the sultry and funky version laid down by guitarist Ed Cherry, and then check out the organ grind of Big John Patton’s rendition.

Example 1 is similar to the line Meyers plays under the first chorus of melody. The rhythmic activity is fairly standard for this type of groove, but his note choices are quirky while cool, particularly the repeated use of a Bn to resolve back to the root (A). The Eb on beat three of bar 6 is an unusual route home, but it gets you there. He walks up to the middle C in bar 9, plays a quick 8–5–R, and throws a textbook dominant approach to the root on beat one of bar 10. However, as the progression goes from C to Bm, the dominant approach on beat four is a big fat F#, which creates a momentary disturbance in the force over the C chord. Jack Meyers had a way of picking notes that stuck out, yet remained functional—even if the function was to disrupt.

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Example 2 is a close approximation of what Meyers plays under Junior Wells’ first solo chorus. Interesting to note that he reverses the order of the basic two-bar pattern, putting the busier half at the end. He hits the octave on the IV chord in bar 5, and uses a scale fragment in bar 6 that precedes an atypical scale fragment on the downbeat of bar 7’s I chord. By Jack Meyers standards, this is a fairly tame line, and yet his forceful presence makes it seem more outrageous than it is. He stands out in the blues genre as a player with enough imagination to get into some real trouble, but possessing the chops and groove to pull it off.

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The boogaloo groove crosses many stylistic boundaries, and it has been a sure-fire way to get people moving since the 1960s. In the words of the immortal James Brown, “’Scuse me while I do the boogaloo!”



Friedland plays, writes, and teaches out of his bass base in Austin, Texas.