Tuesday, 18 January 2011

“I can’t lose with the stuff I use”

Huey' Piano' Smith

‘Don’t You Just Know It’ by Huey 'Piano' Smith And The Clowns has got to be one of my favourite New Orleans R&B tracks. It captures a snapshot of the 50’s R&B scene with its infectious and energetic call and answer style vocals. I challenge anyone to stop their feet from tapping along to the rolling drums, bouncing piano hook and punchy horns! On first hearing the track, it sounds as though Huey Smith is duetting with a woman, but comically this is actually Bobby Marchan performing his trademark female impersonation!!

Huey Smith was born in Louisiana, New Orleans on 26 January 1934. A musical child genius; he had already written and performed his first song on the piano by the age of 8 and by 15, was performing on the New Orleans club circuit as a session pianist. He was eventually given a recording contract by Herman Lubinsky’s jazz and be-bop label, Savoy Records, at the tender age of 18.

The Mid 50s saw Smith doing more session work with artists like Little Richard and Smiley Lewis. He went on to form Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns (formally known as The Rhythm Aces) with female impersonator and trans-gender comedian/singer Bobby Marchan. Marchan had earlier signed to the Mississippi based Ace Records in 1954 when the label boss Johnny Vincent witnessed his drag act in a club and embarrassingly mistook him for a woman!!!

Frankie Ford / Bobby Marchan

The band hit the top 5 with the Ace Records release ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu’ vastly increasing their popularity. They went on to release a sequence of 45s, with the most successful being ‘Don’t You Just Know It’. This hit made No. 4 in the R&B charts and No.9 in the Billboard charts. Unbeknown to many at the time, Smith also wrote ‘Sea Cruise’ from which Ace Records had Smith’s vocals removed and replaced with those of Frankie Ford. Ironically for Smith, this version went on to become a huge hit.

Huey Smith signed to various other labels and eventually joined Imperial Records to re-release ‘Pop-Eye’ in an effort to revamp his career. By this time, his rough and sometimes raw sound struggled to fit in with the emerging popularity of mainstream Rock and Roll.

A few years later he joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses and eventually bowed out of the music industry all together.

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