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Anderson Meade “Lux” Lewis was born on September 4, 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. Meade took some lessons on violin at the behest of his father, who was a musician in his own right. When he was 16, Meade switched to piano and modeled his own playing after that of Chicago boogie-woogie pioneer Jimmy Yancey. “Lux” was a boyhood nickname arising from his penchant for doing “Alphonse and Gaston” routines. He would stroke an imaginary beard as part of his performance, and so his friends dubbed him the “Duke of Luxembourg,” soon shortened to “Lux.” He and Albert Ammons became friends during childhood, and fueled each other’s interest in the boogie-woogie style from an early age, practicing at the Ammons family piano.
In 1927, when Meade was 22, he made the first recording for Paramount of what would be his signature piece, “Honky Tonk Train Blues.” He re-recorded the selection throughout his career, most notably for Parlophone, Victor, and Blue Note. Not limiting himself to piano, he also recorded blues on celeste and harpsichord. He achieved a greater degree of fame after appearing at Carnegie Hall in John Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing concert in 1938.
Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson all appeared at Hammond’s concert and often worked and recorded as a piano trio thereafter, with an extended engagement at Café Society. They successfully toured together, and inspired the boogie-woogie mania that dominated popular music from the late 1930s onward, with the Dorseys and Will Bradley contributing full-on orchestral swing versions of the form.
Meade Lux Lewis appeared in numerous films: New Orleans (1947), Nightmare (1956), and (uncredited) in It’s a Wonderful Life. Lewis worked into the 1960s. On June 7, 1964, after his show at the White House Restaurant in Golden Valley (near Minneapolis), Minnesota, his Chrysler Imperial was struck from behind by another motorist traveling at a high rate of speed. Lewis, aged 58, was killed instantly.
Meade Lux Lewis’ musical legacy endures in that infectious eight-to-the-bar style that persisted and may be said to be the basis for much of rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll. And “Honky Tonk Train Blues” is still played today: on YouTube you will find several magnificent versions performed by Stephanie Trick. —Andy Senior
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