Frankie Ford – Sea Cruise

26th May 2024 · 1950s, 1958, Music, Rockabilly

I discovered this rockabilly classic 20 years late when it was re-released on the dependably punk-adjacent Chiswick label in 1978. And it has quite the story behind it.

At the time I was not au fait with much rockabilly and my main impression was that it was the favoured music of Teddy Boys, a cult of middle-aged men in retro fancy dress whose hobby – for reasons I never did understand – was beating up young punks like me.

All the same, I loved this tune, which was first released in the year I was born. Frankie Ford is the singer but the song is actually by Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, one of the key figures in the mid-’50s transition from RnB to rock’n’roll.

Huey had already released a brilliant tune called Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu, which I’ve featured previously on my site – – but it wasn’t a hit for one simple reason… Huey’s skin colour.

America was still a nation with racial segregaion and white American radio stations wouldn’t play music by black artists. At least not if they knew they were black.

So Huey hired a white singer, Frankie Ford, to re-record the vocals for his follow-up single – and hey presto, it was an instant hit, selling more than a million copies and reaching No.14 in the national singles chart.

Twelve years later, in 1971, it was finally re-released with Huey’s original vocals, credited to Huey ‘Piano’ Smith And His Clowns. It gave him justice at last – though in truth, Frankie is the better singer.

It’s a pretty influential tune too, featuring a ship’s bell and horn sound effects in addition to Huey’s trademark boogie-woogie piano, plus a driving horn section and a shuffle beat that went on to become a prime influence on ska music in Jamaica.