This has to be the most comprehensive, glorious, and flat-out ass-kicking country (hillbilly) boogie collection ever assembled. While it's true that the U.K.'s Proper label is controversial with some other reissue labels for their elaborate, budget-priced collections (in their boxes you get four well-mastered CDs and a full booklet complete with exhaustive liner notes and deluxe photos for less than $35 American), what cannot be debated is their quality both in terms of packaging and compilation research. On these four discs are 100 tracks of nothing but hillbilly boogie jams that cut across time periods, subgenres, labels, and styles to present the only truly accurate representation of this period in the development of country music and rock & roll available. The four discs are arranged thematically, which was the only way to present this much material in any organized fashion, with the boogie woogie represented regionally, instrumentally, and in terms of name recognition (tunes named after people) and tracks that charted. Along with name artists such as Chet Atkins, whose "Boogie Man Boogie" was one of his first vocal performances, Bill Haley, Merle Travis, Arthur Smith, Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Maddox Brothers & Rose, the Delmore Brothers, and Tillman Franks & His Rainbow Boys (featuring Faron Young on vocals), there are untold surprises not only in the most obscure titles, but in the uncovered treasures by talent no one would ever associate with the medium.
Two of these are rare boogie tracks by Hawkshaw Hawkins ("Doghouse Boogie") and Cowboy Copas ("Hangman Boogie"). The pair died together in a plane crash and was never associated with the boogie. Another surprise is the inclusion of Hank Snow's "Rhumba Boogie"; in both style and arrangment it is one of the most radical songs he ever recorded. Most revelatory, however, is the track "Zeb's Mountain Boogie" by Brad Brady, who is actually legendary country producer Owen Bradley & His Tennesseans. This song by Bradley, who was synonymous with the slick, silky sound that made Patsy Cline a household name, is a raw, woolly, and greasy boogie jam that is one of the sweatiest in the set. Billy Haley's tracks are with the Saddlemen, his pre-Comets band, but they rock harder than "Rock Around the Clock." Also, in Tillman Franks listeners hear the alter ego of none other than Webb Pierce. With the Ernie Ford, Haley, and Arthur Smith cuts, listeners have the true underpinnings of the savage kind of rockabilly made infamous by Gene Vincent, Sonny Burgess, and Johnny Burnette. It's out of control, nearly off the rails eight-bar boogie that features the pedal steel and electric guitar more prominently than the piano -- which is also a key fissure in the music that early rock & roll split off from. There are also forms here such as the Cajun boogie of Harry Choates and the jazzed-out Western swing pursuits by Jim Boyd, with the prominent piano in a dual role with the pedal steel, and Spade Cooley, Jerry Irby, and Curley Rash. This collection is the crossroads where the old barrelhouse music of the early 20th century met the Southern blues met the swing bands and flipped itself over into hot rod rock & roll. Hillbilly Boogie is indispensable for anyone interested in American roots music in general or in the development of country and rock & roll in particular. Let it rock, boogie man boogie, or just go home.