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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Cripple Clarence Lofton

Albert Clemens, b. March 28, 1887 in Kingsport, TN, d. January 9, 1957 in Chicago, IL, noted boogie-woogie pianist and singer, active 1920s - 1950s.

Though Lofton was born with a limp (from which he derived his stage name), he actually started his career as a tap-dancer. Lofton moved on from tap-dancing into the blues idiom known as boogie-woogie and moved on to perform in Chicago, Illinois. The trademark of Lofton's performances was his energetic stage-presence, where he danced and whistled in addition to singing. A conversant description of Lofton is provided in an excerpt from Boogie Woogie by William Russell:
"No one can complain of Clarence's lack of variety or versatility. When he really gets going he's a three-ring circus. During one number, he plays, sings, whistles a chorus, and snaps his fingers with the technique of a Spanish dancer to give further percussive accompaniment to his blues. At times he turns sideways, almost with his back to the piano as he keeps pounding away at the keyboard and stomping his feet, meanwhile continuing to sing and shout at his audience or his drummer. Suddenly in the middle of a number he jumps up, his hands clasped in front of him, and walks around the piano stool, and then, unexpectedly, out booms a vocal break in a bass voice from somewhere. One second later, he has turned and is back at the keyboard, both hands flying at lightning- like pace. His actions and facial expressions are as intensely dramatic and exciting as his music."
With his distinctive performance style, Lofton found himself a mainstay in his genre: His first recording was in April 1935 for Vocalion Records with guitar accompaniment from Big Bill Broonzy. He later went on to own the Big Apple nightclub in Chicago and continued to record well into the late 1940s, when he retired.

Lofton lived in Chicago until he died from a blood clot in his brain in Cook County Hospital in 1957. Lofton was an integral part of the boogie-woogie genre in Chicago. Some of his more popular songs include: "Strut That Thing", "Monkey Man Blues", "I Don't Know" and "Pitchin' Boogie". His talent was likened to that of Pinetop Smith and other prominent boogie-woogie artists including: Meade Lux Lewis, Cow Cow Davenport and Jimmy Yancey. Lofton was also said to have influenced Erwin Helfer.


by Cub Koda
Cripple Clarence Lofton is one of those colorful names that adorned many an album collection of early boogie-woogie piano 78s in the early days of the '60s folk-blues revival. An early practitioner of the form, along with his fellow contemporaries Cow Cow Davenport, Meade "Lux" Lewis, Pine Top Smith, and Jimmy Yancey, Lofton was one of the originators who spread the word in Chicago in the early '20s. The physically challenged nicknamed he used -- seen by modern audiences as a tad exploitative, to say the least -- was a bit of a ringer. Although he suffered a birth defect in his leg that made him walk with a pronounced limp, it certainly didn't stop him from becoming an excellent tap dancer, his original ticket into show business. He quickly developed a stage act that consisted of pounding out the boogie-woogie on the piano while standing up, dancing, whistling, and vocalizing while -- as one old bluesman put it -- "carrying on a lotta racket." Lofton's technique -- or lack of it -- stemmed more from a tent show background and those listening to his earliest and most energetic recordings will quickly attest that hitting every note or making every chord change precisely were not exactly high priorities with him. But this wild, high-energy act got the young showman noticed quickly and by the early '30s, he was so much a fixture of Chicago night life firmament that he had his own Windy City nightclub, the oddly named Big Apple. Lofton remained on the scene, cutting sides for the Gennett, Vocalion, Solo Art, Riverside, Session, and Pax labels into the '40s. When the boogie-woogie craze cooled off and eventually died down in the late '40s, Lofton went into early retirement, staying around Chicago until his death in 1957 from a blood clot in the brain.