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Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns

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Huey Smith was born in New Orleans on January 26, 1934, and began playing the piano at age 15. At the dawn of the ’50s, Smith backed New Orleans guitar legends Earl King and Guitar Slim, and quickly became a popular session pianist, playing on records by the cream of the New Orleans R&B scene: Smiley Lewis (the classic “I Hear You Knockin’”), Lloyd Price, and Little Richard. During the mid-’50s, Smith began leading his own band, the Clowns, which usually featured popular local blues singer and female impersonator Bobby Marchan on lead vocals. Smith & the Clowns signed with the Ace label and scored a breakout Top Five R&B hit in 1957 with “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” which despite becoming a classic rock & roll standard didn’t even make the pop Top 40, thanks to reticent white radio programmers. The following year, Smith scored his biggest hit with the double-sided smash “Don’t You Just Know It”/”High Blood Pressure,” which reached the pop Top Ten and the R&B Top Five. In 1959, Smith cut the original tune “Sea Cruise,” and seeking pop radio airplay, Ace had white teenage R&B singer Frankie Ford overdub his own vocal onto Smith’s backing track; the result became a nationwide hit.

Smith cut a few novelty numbers in an attempt to duplicate the success of “Rockin’ Pneumonia,” some even using the same type of illness joke (“Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas and the Sinus Blues,” for example).

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