26 January 1934 (age 84)
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Huey "Piano" Smith (born January 26, 1934, New Orleans, Louisiana) is an American rhythm and blues pianist whose sound was influential in rock and roll.
His piano playing incorporated the boogie styles of Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons; the jazz style of Jelly Roll Morton and the piano playing of Fats Domino. Allmusic journalist, Steve Huey, also noted "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, "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu."
Smith was born in New Orleans' Garden District, and was influenced by New Orleans' piano innovator, 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, "Roberson Street Boogie" (named after the street where he lived), when he was only eight years old, and performed the tune with a friend. They billed themselves as Slick and Dark. Smith attended McDowell High and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. When Smith was fifteen he began working in clubs and recording records with his flamboyant partner, Eddie Jones, who rose to fame as Guitar Slim. When he 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 turned 21, and became the piano player with Little Richard's first band 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, Smith formed "Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns" with blues singer and female impersonator Bobby Marchan, and signed a long term contract with former Specialty record producer, Johnny Vincent at Ace Records. They hit the Billboard charts with several singles in succession, including a breakout Top Five R&B hit entitled "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu". The song was originally an instrumental, and then Smith decided to do the same song on the B-side, but this time with lyrics. The lyrics were written by John Vincent, and 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 Chickie Wah Wah" with Clowns singer Gerri Hall, under the billing of Huey and Dewey. Meanwhile, Ace Records released several more singles from 'Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns', including "We Like Birdland", "Well I'll Be John Brown", and "Don't You Know Yockomo".
Their most famous single, released in 1958, "Don't You Just Know It" with B-side "High Blood Pressure", 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 Marchan's voice from the now classic single Smith composed, arranged and performed entitled "Sea Cruise", and replaced it with a more energetic vocal track by white singer Frankie Ford. The tune was a huge 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 the last hit single credited to Huey "Piano" Smith, entitled "Pop-Eye".
In the years following, he made several comebacks, performing as 'Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns', 'The Hueys', 'The Pitter Pats', and as 'Shindig Smith and the Soul Shakers', but he has never attained his former degree of success. Thereafter, Smith joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, and left the music industry permanently.
In 2000, Smith was honored with a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
Smith's song, "Don't You Just Know It", was used in the 1993 film, A Bronx Tale, and appeared on the soundtrack of the 2001 film, Snatch. Portions of this song were also used in a series of commercials for Familiprix, a chain of pharmacies in Quebec.
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