Bandleader and pianist Freddie Slack is best remembered for his boogie-woogie rhythms of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Slack was a very capable pianist and quite able to performing other kinds of music, and in fact he preferred to do so. His major fault, though, was that he never tried very hard to break from the boogie-woogie genre. Each attempt to reinvent himself seemed to lead right back to an eight-beat bar.
Originally trained on the drums, Slack attended the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and from 1927 to 1931 worked with Johnny Tobin’s orchestra. In 1931, he moved to Los Angeles, where he spent time in the orchestras of Henry Halstead, Earl Burtnett, Archie Rosate, and Lennie Hayton. In the mid-1930s he joined Ben Pollack, leaving in 1936 to work with Jimmy Dorsey.
While with Dorsey’s band, Slack became good friends with drummer Ray McKinley. When McKinley left Dorsey to form an orchestra with trombonist Will Bradley, Slack went with him and emerged as a key component in the new group’s boogie woogie stylings.
Slack left Bradley and McKinley in 1941 and formed his own orchestra in 1942. He followed in his former employer’s footsteps, riding the then-current boogie-woogie craze. His band became one of the first signed to the newly-formed Capitol Records and gave the label its first big hit, “Cow Cow Boogie.” Slack’s most famous vocalists was Ella Mae Morse. Other singers over the years included David Allen, Imogene Lynn, and perhaps Jimmy Cook. Future exotica orchestra leader Les Baxter served as arranger.
Slack disbanded his orchestra in the early 1950s but continued to perform on the West Coast as part of a piano duo and with his own trio. Slack also wrote several songs during his career, the most popular being “The House of Blue Lights,” co-authored with Don Raye. Freddie Slack passed away in 1965.