‘Cow Cow’ Davenport was a little known Alabama ragtime pianist who made a lasting impression on piano Blues when he incorporated walking bass figures into his left-hand style and played them with a verve and pace that became known as boogie-woogie. A self taught player, Charles Davenport left home as a teenager to accompany singers in carnivals and vaudeville acts in the theatres on the TOBA circuit. He spent many years playing with the singer Dora Carr, and somewhere on the road, he befriended another young pianist known as Pinetop Smith. When Charles split up with Dora, he decided to try his luck in Chicago, and recommended that Pinetop might do the same. When he wrote and recorded ‘Cow Cow Blues’ in 1928, Charles got a lasting stage name. When Smith recorded ‘Pinetop’s Boogie-woogie’ later the same year, he was hailed as the first boogie-woogie player, largely because Pinetop seemed to be instructing dancers how to “boogie-woogie” in the studio.
‘Cow Cow’ worked with other singers, like Sam Theard and Ivy Smith, with whom he worked up an act called The Chicago Steppers and recorded ‘Jim Crow Blues’, but sadly for a man who played such joyful music, he was swamped by the Depression in the 30s. Some reports say his hands were paralysed by a stroke and others that he went to jail for debts, but it seems he settled in Cleveland after WWII, where he died in 1955.