RIP Huey “Piano” Smith (1934-2023)

15th February 2023 · 1950s, 1957, Music, Rock'n'Roll

Huey “Piano” Smith was one of the key figures in the transition from RnB to rock’n’roll in the Fifties. And a legend in his native New Orleans.

Here’s a song even older than me. Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie flu came out way back in 1957.

At the time American radio programmers were so racist that they wouldn’t play a black man rocking up a storm like this. So a song that has gone on to become a rock’n’roll standard never even cracked the Top 40.

When he released his next tune, Sea Cruise, a year later Huey’s record label – Ace Records – got around that.

They hired a teenage white boy called Frankie Ford to sing over the top. And lo and behold, Huey had a hit (just not under his own name).

By 1959 he had built enough of a reputation to get his next song, Don’t You Just Know It, on the radio under his own name.

It became his biggest hit of all. And another standard. And his signature song.

Like his predecessor Professor Longhair, his contemporary Fats Domino, and his successor Dr John, Huey came from New Orleans.

He first made his name in the Crescent City by teaming up with the great pre-rock’n’roll axeman Guitar Slim, and then with Earl King, playing on his hit I Hear You Knocking before becoming – oddly – the piano player in Little Richard’s band.

Even when formed his own bands – first the Rhythm Aces and then The Clowns – Huey hired singers rather than take the lead vocals himself.

Rockin’ Pneumonia is sung by The Clowns’ regular frontman (or woman) Bobby Marchan – Bobby was also a female impersonator – along with Huey’s hairdresser, Sidney Rayfield, and a teenager called ‘Scarface’ John Williams.