Caroline Dahl
Boogie Woogie Piano

How I Came to Play Boogie Woogie Piano in San Francisco

I came to boogie woogie music through rock ‘n roll on the radio. In my teens, I loved the R & B piano players who, as I saw later, clearly listened to and learned from the musicians who played boogie woogie piano. I loved Stevie Wonder, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and (a little later) Elton John and Dr. John. It wasn’t until much later that I heard recordings of the great early players like Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis, and New Orleans players like James Booker and Professor Longhair, who were not on mainstream radio. I would say my boogie woogie piano style leans heavily on the rock ‘n roll side. Here’s how it all started.

Teenage Years and Music

I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and when I was 12 years old took classical piano lessons for about a year from a neighborhood teacher. I slogged my way through a minefield of teenage angst with the rest of my friends, and along with working as a YMCA day camp counselor, I marched in the high school band and played in the orchestra — flute, not piano.

It wasn’t long before my interest in classical music gave way to a love of rock ‘n roll, and I was rarely without my transistor radio in its aqua-colored pleather carrying case pressed to my ear.

College, India and Rock ‘n Roll

Following graduation from the University of Kentucky with a BA in English, I took a mind bending solo 4-month trip to India, then came home to Louisville and started playing piano (the mighty Farfisa) for the first time in a band called Gee Wiz. We played originals and contemporary rock covers. (All hail The Easybeats!)

This set the scene for a series of part-time jobs, allowing me valuable time to postpone making any decisions about the future direction of my life — gigs such as staff person at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, designer for a picture framer, restaurant hostess, and piano teacher for the City of Lexington’s adult education program. I also began to pursue more seriously my burgeoning interest in fabric art, eventually exhibiting and selling my work nationally and internationally.

First Time Playing Piano in San Francisco

After moving to San Francisco in 1978, I continued working a variety of part-time jobs so I could concentrate on the business of having fun. Some of these jobs were retail sales at a do-dad kiosk in Ghirardelli Square, retail sales at a needlepoint / embroidery store, file clerk at a lawyer’s office, receptionist at an architectural firm, and travel agent. I also started playing piano more often in San Francisco, gradually getting gigs at now defunct clubs on Broadway and South of Market, and at the still-standing Saloon. The band I played with most often around this time was The Mellotones, which played swing and jump blues.

Back to Louisville with the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars

In the mid-80s, I moved back to Louisville for family reasons and gigged around the South and Midwest of the United States for two years playing piano with the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars fronted by Nick Stump on vocals & guitar and Rodney Hatfield (Art Snake) on vocals & harmonica. We put out three albums on June Appal Records and Taxim Records.

Playing Piano Again in San Francisco

In 1989, I moved back to San Francisco and worked a variety of part-time jobs including subscription ticket sales for the San Francisco Symphony. I was given the name “Wonder Woman” by my supervisor after closing a credit card telephone sale during the exact time of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Soon after, the part-time jobs faded away and I became a full-time working musician — most often with the Bay Area bands Rhythmtown Jive and The Rhythm Sheiks — and playing a variety of solo gigs including most Sunday brunches for more than 25 years at the now closed (but not because of me) Mama’s Royal CafĂ© in Mill Valley.

For the past twenty years, I have played piano with Tom Rigney and Flambeau, have played solo at venues around the U. S. and Europe, and have produced four boogie woogie piano CDs.