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Author Topic: On Honky Tonk, Ragtime, Lousiana Brothels and Wild West Saloons  (Read 1150 times)
J. Wilhelm
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« on: August 06, 2015, 06:55:55 am »

You may have heard the term Honky Tonk, once or twice in your life time, and if you're a but more knowledgeable in matters musical, you may have heard that term associated with the American Country/Western music scene.

However the meaning of the term is far more varied, and older than the modern use of the term, and it is definitely original to American Mid West and Southwest during the 19th. C. It did not however originate in the 1950s Country/Western scene, nor during the Swing Era, as some may think.  It is much older than that.

The etymology and exact source of the term is still debated today, with the oldest reference in print tied to a newspaper article in the Dallas Morning News, about the opening of a theatre called the "Honky Tonk" in 1890.  Other references occur in a 1892 article in Galveston Daily News, in which the term to refers to an adult establishment in Fort Worth. Other references circa 1894 spell the term as "Honk-a-Tonk."

Otherwise, the term was used in connection to rough establishments, with music and which served alcoholic beverages to a working class clientele. Honky Tonks sometimes also offered dancing to piano players or small bands, and commonly were centers of prostitution, which basically seems to fit our modern definition of "Wild West Saloon."

In the available literature, the term Honky Tonk appears more frequently in relation to bawdy variety shows in the West (Oklahoma and Indian Territories and Texas) and to the theaters housing them. According to Wiki "The distinction between Honky Tonks, Saloons and Dancehalls was often blurred, especially in cowtowns, mining districts, military forts and oilfields of the West."

Which leads some people to believe that this is a term that was originally spread, long before the 1890s, by the people working in the cattle industry, such as cowboys and ranch hands along the trade routes.

Curiously some people trace the term to a common type of piano present in saloons and pubs, specifically upright pianos made by William Tonk & Bros. The first time the term Honky Tonk is used in reference to music is in a style of piano closely related to Ragtime music, but noting that Honky Tonk differed in that it emphasized rhythm over melody.

It is said that this "honky" style of music evolved from the poor condition of the pianos in low rent pubs and saloons.  Hence the possibility arises that the term Honky Tonk, would be a reference to the sound a Tonk piano makes when it's poorly kept, out of tune, and some keys are malfunctioning or missing.

"That is one Honky Tonk piano, pardner."

Honky Tonk Music, however, is far more nebulous to define during this period, and the only thing we know for sure is that it overlaps the emergence of Ragtime music, because early Honky Tonk Piano was more a way of playing the music on the piano than a genre by itself. Honkey Tonk would not become a musical genre proper until many decades later and well within the Country Western musical umbrella of the 1950s.

Ragtime, on the other hand, is a bona fide musical genre, defined by a highly syncopated style of piano music which emerged between 1895 and 1918 in connection to red light districts among African American communities in the Mid West and later the Deep South.  Rag Time was originally refereed to as "jig piano" or "piano thumping."

Ragtime is attributed to a, black entertainer, Ernest Hogan, who in 1895 published two of the earliest sheet music rags, of which according to Wiki, "one All Coons Look Alike to Me eventually sold a million copies."  The importance of these early "Rags" was that the music was written in a way that for the first time captured the style of music performed by players who were not formally trained in Western music.

Quote
As fellow black musician Tom Fletcher said, Hogan was the "first to put on paper the kind of rhythm that was being played by non-reading musicians."


And the latter characteristic rhythm is one of the most important components in the style of music that eventually became know as Jazz. Which is to say that Jazz was first and foremost a commoner’s style of folk music, usually played by people without formal musical training, and which gave these American musical genres a distinct flavour apart from Western music.

But unlike jazz, classical Ragtime had and has primarily a written tradition, being distributed in sheet music, and hence the name "Rag" used to refer to the sheets of music.

It is said the Ragtime matured by the time Scott Joplin wrote "Maple Leaf Rag" (1897), and it is in fact this period, when Jazz first began to emerge in conjunction to Blues, which was a working class music intimately associated with African American communities in the South.  That confluence of styles in music would happen in the brothels and red light district bars in places like New Orleans and at the hands of people like Jelly Roll Morton, who started his career at age 14... working at a brothel in New Orleans, Lousiana.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Joplin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jelly_Roll_Morton

In the meantime, Honky Tonk "veered left" toward the origins of modern Country/Western music, but not without helping along another branch of Jazz, namely Swing. Boogie Woogie piano, to be more specific. It is said that Honky Tonk piano music would be a strong factor in the emergence of Boogie Woogie piano style of the late 1930s. In fact, in 1938 Jelly Roll Morton wrote a type of "tutorial" musical piece illustrating the relationship between Honky Tonk, Ragtime and Boogie Woogie (see the last video below).

It is during the pre–World War II years, that the music industry began to refer to Honky Tonk music being played from Texas and Oklahoma to the West Coast as Hillbilly music.  And that is the start fo what is know as the 1950s' "Honky Tonk Revival." According to Wiki, "in the 1950s, Honky Tonk entered its golden age, with the massive popularity of Webb Pierce, Hank Locklin, Lefty Frizzell, Faron Young, George Jones and Hank Williams."

And so everyone is related to everyone else if you go far back enough in time. Same is true for people as it is for music.

Honky Tonk style of playing the Piano
Gary Landgren - Honky Tonk Piano


Ragtime Piano
Adam Swanson - Calico Rag - Nat Johnson


Jelly Roll Morton's "Honky Tonk Music" (1938). A "tutorial" blending Boogie Woogie, Honky Tonk and Ragtime.

Jelly Roll Morton: Honkey Tonk Music (1938)


Honky Tonk as explained by a more modern Country/Western musician - you should be able to hear the Boogie Woogie in there too as well as the Ragtime influences.

The Real Honky Tonk Piano By Tim Alexander
« Last Edit: August 06, 2015, 08:25:43 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2015, 10:03:56 am »

Well, Mr Wilhelm, after introducing such a 'uniquely' titled popular rag, you had to know we would be off a-googling, so:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yl5Xc8_zySg

[I presume that like modern rap-music, the use of the terms are indicative of the era and milieu in which they were first recorded.]
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« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2015, 11:56:29 am »

Well, Mr Wilhelm, after introducing such a 'uniquely' titled popular rag, you had to know we would be off a-googling, so:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yl5Xc8_zySg

[I presume that like modern rap-music, the use of the terms are indicative of the era and milieu in which they were first recorded.]


Perhaps the proper context is required, and if you went around searching for the title of the song, surely you found the following... 

This is Mr. Ernest Hogan, the composer himself:

He was the first African-American entertainer to produce and star in a Broadway show and is credited with being the person to publish the first two Rags, "La Pas Ma La," and "All Coons Look Alike to Me."

He actually stole the lyrics from a Pianist in Chicago, where the original title read, "All Pimps Look Alike to Me," and he simply substituted the word "Pimp" for the word "coon" a racial derogatory term of the time.

As to why he chose to do that, perhaps it is the first documented case of "owning the word," whereby he took possession of the insults lodged toward the African American population.  Similar to the modern use of the "N" word by present-day African American artists.  Other than that it is a mystery.  The music sheet covers used for the song were downright saturated with the ugly stereotypes of the era which were - at least to my modern eyes - plainly derogatory.

Mind you. like today, not everyone in the African American community shared his view on "owning the word." And similar to the expected reaction you would get from the public today, the use of the "coon" word was extremely controversial and created a serious problem for Mr. Hogan among his own community, and shamed him all through his life until his death bed.  As Wiki states:

"Hogan's use of the racial slur "coon" in the song infuriated many African Americans. Some Black performers made a point of removing the word "coon" from the song whenever they sang it. In addition, the success of this song created many imitations, which became known as "coon songs" because of their use of extremely racist and stereotypical images of blacks. In Hogan's later years he evidently felt shame and a sense of "race betrayal" for the song."

*snip*

"Before his death, he stated that he "regretted" using the racial slur in his song."

*snip*

"The controversy over the song has, to some degree, caused Hogan to be overlooked as one of the originators of ragtime, which has been called the first truly American musical genre. Hogan's songs were among the first published ragtime songs and the first to use the term "rag" in their sheet music copy. While Hogan made no claims to having exclusively created ragtime, fellow Black musician Tom Fletcher said Hogan was the "first to put on paper the kind of rhythm that was being played by non-reading musicians."

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hogan

~ ~ ~

No one said history had to be kind. And music is often based on sorrow and despair, as opposed to happy, sanitized thoughts.

One thing I'm not entirely sure Non-Americans understand, when talking about Blues, Ragtime and Jazz (including all forms of Jazz, Swing and Rock and Roll), is how the history of the African people, and their suffering in the United States created the music that most people around the world simply take for granted, and have appropriated as if it was theirs.

For example, the lyrics in the form of laments that we associate today with the Blues, actually have long forgotten roots in the laments of slaves and former slaves of the American South before and after the emancipation of slavery. Even the the origin of the Blues chord progression is directly derived from the tonal scale used by Africans when trying to play music.

From Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blues

"[Blues] is a fusion of traditional African music and European folk music, spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads."

*snip*

"The term may have come from the term "blue devils", meaning melancholy and sadness; an early use of the term in this sense is found in George Colman's one-act farce Blue Devils (1798). Though the use of the phrase in African-American music may be older, it has been attested to since 1912, when Hart Wand's "Dallas Blues" became the first copyrighted blues composition.[5][6] In lyrics the phrase is often used to describe a depressed mood"

*snip*

"Early blues frequently took the form of a loose narrative. The singer voiced his or her 'personal woes in a world of harsh reality: a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, [and] hard times.'"

*snip*

"The blues form is a cyclic musical form in which a repeating progression of chords mirrors the call and response scheme commonly found in African and African-American music. During the first decades of the 20th century blues music was not clearly defined in terms of a particular chord progression.[21] With the popularity of early performers, such as Bessie Smith, use of the twelve-bar blues spread across the music industry during the 1920s and 30s.[22] Other chord progressions, such as 8-bar forms, are still considered blues"

One of the first two published Blues songs: St. Louis Blues by WC Handy (1914)

W.c. Handy - St. Louis Blues (1914)


Almost every single step in the evolution of Jazz has been spearheaded by African Americans and their music adopted by others in the United States and around the world.  To put it quite simply, they originated American - and indeed global - popular music.

Ragtime (Scott Joplin) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragtime
Blues (WC Handy) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blues
Swing (Fletcher Henderson) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_music
Bebop Jazz (Dizzy Gillespie) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bebop
Cool Jazz (Miles Davis, John Lewis) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_jazz
Rock and Roll (Chuck Berry) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_and_roll
Rap (Big Daddy Kane) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapping

By the way - all of the above is considered by music historians as being under the "Jazz" umbrella term.  The list is obviously not inclusive, but illustrative. Notice a pattern?  It is the American experience, often painful, of the African Americans that is embedded in the music. That is the soul of Jazz. And perhaps the hidden past behind the Beatles, The Who, and just about any other pop artist on the globe if you think about it...

From Wiki: (Rock and Roll)

"The immediate roots of rock and roll lay in the rhythm and blues, then called "race music", and country music of the 1940s and 1950s. Particularly significant influences were jazz, blues, gospel, country, and folk. Commentators differ in their views of which of these forms were most important and the degree to which the new music was a re-branding of African American rhythm and blues for a white market, or a new hybrid of black and white forms.
In the 1930s jazz, and particularly swing, both in urban based dance bands and blues-influenced country swing, was among the first music to present African American sounds for a predominantly white audience."

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« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2015, 04:37:14 am »



 I have yet to meet anyone  who was not  caught in the moment  with a Scott Joplin number

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Joplin

Easy Winner played by Scott Joplin


Sunflower Slow Drag (SCOTT JOPLIN, 1901) Ragtime Piano Roll Legend


SCOTT JOPLIN (The Chrysanthemum, 1904) Ragtime Piano Roll Legend


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« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2015, 05:28:20 pm »

Oh, sorry, I thought you meant...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkHYApbbdL0
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« Reply #5 on: November 05, 2015, 05:46:17 pm »

Oh, sorry, I thought you meant...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkHYApbbdL0

Oh you are awful - but I like you
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J. Wilhelm
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« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2015, 11:03:44 am »



Well, since we're getting less serious about this - and Ragtime was never about getting serious, but rather irreverent, then let me introduce this absolutely fantastic piece of anachronism:

The words of Eminem over Winifred Atwell's Black And White Rag

« Last Edit: November 06, 2015, 11:28:56 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
Hurricane Annie
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« Reply #7 on: November 06, 2015, 11:44:44 pm »



Well, since we're getting less serious about this - and Ragtime was never about getting serious, but rather irreverent, then let me introduce this absolutely fantastic piece of anachronism:

The words of Eminem over Winifred Atwell's Black And White Rag

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icVlW_MdrCA#


 It does have that Goon Show  effect.
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« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2015, 12:14:00 am »


 My early childhood  had a steady stream of  silent films and serials  such as  Keystone cops; vintage cartoons of Betty Boop, Clutch Cargo,  early Disney , Pink panther and the  like

Rag time , Jazz, Swing  and Blues a;long with Henri Mancini  were the sound track to my formative  years. It is only now I have  come to realise what I was listening to and the affect and influence it has had.

Spoiler (click to show/hide)
« Last Edit: November 07, 2015, 12:15:37 am by Hurricane Annie » Logged
creagmor
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« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2015, 10:22:21 pm »

Just my two cents worth, but as to the origin of the term "ragtime", I have always heard that is was a corruption of "ragged time" because of the syncopated nature of the music.

I may be going out on a limb here, but in my opinion the musical traditions from Africa and Celtic countries (e.g. Scotland and Ireland) have, most likely been the two strongest in the popular music in the US. I once had an old vinyl album of Irish Fiddle and squeeze box music that people were sure was blue grass.         
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« Reply #10 on: November 08, 2015, 03:34:38 am »

Just my two cents worth, but as to the origin of the term "ragtime", I have always heard that is was a corruption of "ragged time" because of the syncopated nature of the music.

I may be going out on a limb here, but in my opinion the musical traditions from Africa and Celtic countries (e.g. Scotland and Ireland) have, most likely been the two strongest in the popular music in the US. I once had an old vinyl album of Irish Fiddle and squeeze box music that people were sure was blue grass.        

I didn't touch on the etymology of the word Ragtime, so you may be correct, and it's not too risky to assume that African and Celtic influences would be the strongest in popular music.

On the contrary, the roots of popular music must rest with folkloric music. In this case, what we are looking at is the evolution of American folkloric music into modern popular music.  Country Western is one branch of popular music. Jazz is the other.

Periodically in history, both branches crossed paths, every now and then. In the 1950s it happened when Country was crossed with Blues and Swing. The result was Rock and Roll.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2015, 03:42:22 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
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« Reply #11 on: November 09, 2015, 05:18:35 pm »

The way I was told it by a friend who studied music history, the Blues and Country/Western were originally the same musical genre but they were racially segregated. 

The styles, the motifs, the sounds were all the same, but if the artists were black it was called the Blues and if they were white it was called Country/ Western.

The genres have evolved their separate way since.
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« Reply #12 on: November 09, 2015, 05:37:56 pm »

The genres have evolved their separate way since.

Of course there are plenty of black Country musicians and plenty of white boys playing the Blues. Smiley
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« Reply #13 on: November 09, 2015, 06:07:06 pm »

The genres have evolved their separate way since.

Of course there are plenty of black Country musicians and plenty of white boys playing the Blues. Smiley

Certainly.  It's the music itself that has evolved along different lines.
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« Reply #14 on: November 09, 2015, 08:31:54 pm »

The way I was told it by a friend who studied music history, the Blues and Country/Western were originally the same musical genre but they were racially segregated. 

The styles, the motifs, the sounds were all the same, but if the artists were black it was called the Blues and if they were white it was called Country/ Western.

The genres have evolved their separate way since.

I would disagree.  I also studied music history in college.  The problem with that statement I'd that Blues proper hardly goes back before 1900. American folkloric music was in a state of high flux in the 19th Century.  And country music was not called as such in the 19th. C. It would have been more regional in nature.

To be frank the rate of European migration into the United States was constantly changing the nature of folkloric music.  First with Scott Irish,  then with German and Scandinavian,  then more Irish thrown in, and so on...

By the time Blues and Ragtime came out that was the peak of cultural segregation and the South produced a good chunk of the folkloric music,  for obvious reasons.  Then the music especially Jazz, itself began to break barriers as we moved into the 1920s (with full blown racial segregation until the 1960s in the Siutg)
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« Reply #15 on: November 09, 2015, 08:50:06 pm »

The way I was told it by a friend who studied music history, the Blues and Country/Western were originally the same musical genre but they were racially segregated. 

The styles, the motifs, the sounds were all the same, but if the artists were black it was called the Blues and if they were white it was called Country/ Western.

The genres have evolved their separate way since.

I would disagree.  I also studied music history in college.  The problem with that statement I'd that Blues proper hardly goes back before 1900. American folkloric music was in a state of high flux in the 19th Century.  And country music was not called as such in the 19th. C. It would have been more regional in nature.

To be frank the rate of European migration into the United States was constantly changing the nature of folkloric music.  First with Scott Irish,  then with German and Scandinavian,  then more Irish thrown in, and so on...

By the time Blues and Ragtime came out that was the peak of cultural segregation and the South produced a good chunk of the folkloric music,  for obvious reasons.  Then the music especially Jazz, itself began to break barriers as we moved into the 1920s (with full blown racial segregation until the 1960s in the Siutg)

Thank you for the clarification.
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« Reply #16 on: November 13, 2015, 08:37:39 pm »

J. Wilhelm: as to your reply on my comment regarding the origin of the term "ragtime"; please be kind enough to permit me to quote a small portion of your original post concerning the etymology of the word. "Ragtime ... has primarily a written tradition, being distributed in sheet music, and hence the name 'Rag' used to refer to the sheets of music."
« Last Edit: November 13, 2015, 08:40:03 pm by creagmor » Logged
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