Huey "Piano" Smith
|Birth name||Huey Pierce Smith|
January 26, 1934 |
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
|Genres||Rock and roll
Rhythm and blues
|Labels||Savoy Records, Ace Records, Imperial Records|
|Associated acts||Curley Moore|
His piano playing incorporated the boogie styles of Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, and Albert Ammons, the jazz style of Jelly Roll Morton and the rhythm-and-blues style of Fats Domino. AllMusic journalist Steve Huey noted that "At the peak of his game, Smith epitomized New Orleans R&B at its most infectious and rollicking, as showcased on his classic signature tune, 'Don't You Just Know It.'"
Smith was born in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. He was influenced by the innovative work of Professor Longhair. He became known for his shuffling right-handed break on the piano that influenced other Southern players.
Smith wrote his first song on the piano, "Robertson Street Boogie" (named after the street where he lived), when he was eight years old. He performed the tune with a friend; they billed themselves as Slick and Dark. Smith attended McDowell High School and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans.
When Smith was fifteen, he began working in clubs and recording with his flamboyant partner, Eddie Jones, who rose to fame as Guitar Slim. When Smith was eighteen, in 1952, he signed a recording contract with Savoy Records, which released his first known single, "You Made Me Cry". In 1953 Smith recorded with Earl King.
In 1955, Smith became the piano player with Little Richard's first band in sessions for Specialty Records. The same year he also played piano on several studio sessions for other artists, such as Lloyd Price. Two of the sessions resulted in hits for Earl King ("Those Lonely Lonely Nights") and Smiley Lewis ("I Hear You Knocking").
In 1957, he formed a band, Huey "Piano" Smith and His Clowns, with Bobby Marchan, and signed a long-term contract with Ace Records, represented by former Specialty record producer Johnny Vincent. They hit the Billboard charts with several singles in succession, including "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu".
The record was issued as "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu Part 1" on the A-side, lyrics by John Vincent, and "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu Part 2", an instrumental, on the flip side. The record sold over one million copies, achieving gold disc status.
In 1958, Vin Records, a subsidiary of Ace Records, released a popular single, "Little Chickee Wah Wah", with Clowns singer Gerri Hall, under the billing of Huey and Jerry. (This song is sometimes confused with the similarly titled 1956 single "Chickie Wah Wah", by Bobby Marchan, which has entirely different lyrics, tempo, chord structure and melody; the Vincent-Smith composition is built around the melody of the old black children's play song "Little Sally Walker.")
Meanwhile, Ace Records released several more singles by Huey "Piano" Smith and His Clowns, including "We Like Birdland", "Well I'll Be John Brown", and "Don't You Know Yockomo" (a cover version of which, recorded by the New Zealand artist Dinah Lee, reached number 1 in both New Zealand and Australia in 1964).
The Clowns' most famous single, released in 1958, was "Don't You Just Know It" backed with "High Blood Pressure." This hit number 9 on the Billboard Pop chart and number 4 on the Rhythm and Blues chart. It was their second million seller.
In 1959, Ace Records erased Smith's vocal track from "Sea Cruise", the now-classic single Smith had composed, arranged and performed, and replaced it with a vocal track by the white singer Frankie Ford. The song was a hit for Ford.
Smith left Ace Records for Imperial Records, to record with Fats Domino's noted producer (and fellow Louisianan) Dave Bartholomew, but the national hits did not follow. Instead, Ace Records again overdubbed new vocals by Gerri Hall, Billy Roosevelt and Johnny Williams on another one of Smith's unreleased tracks, to produce "Pop-Eye", the last hit single credited to Smith.
One of the vocalists for the Clowns during the late 1950s and 1960s was Curley Moore (1943–1985), who also had minor regional solo hits under his own name, including "Don't Pity Me", recorded for SanSu Records; "Soul Train", on Hotline Records; and "Get Low Down." in 1979, Moore joined a re-formed version of the Clowns with Smith at the 1979 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Moore was murdered; his body was found in Algiers, Louisiana, near New Orleans, in December 1985 . He was 42 years old.
In the years following, Smith made several comebacks, performing as Huey "Piano" Smith and His Clowns, the Hueys, the Pitter Pats, and Shindig Smith and the Soul Shakers, but he has never attained his former degree of success.
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