Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, New Orleans R&B Star, Dies at 89

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New Orleans R&B pioneer Huey “Piano” Smith, whose hits included “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” and “Don’t You Just Know It,” died Monday (Feb. 13, 2023) in Baton Rouge, La. He was 89. The cause of death has not been reported.

Smith’s songs, many of which he co-wrote, have been covered widely by artists in the rock, R&B and country genres, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Aerosmith, Tom Jones, the Grateful Dead, Professor Longhair, Deep Purple, Dr. John, Herman’s Hermits, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, John Fogerty, Patti LaBelle, Paul Simon and others. Frankie Ford had a #14 hit with Smith’s “Sea Cruise” and Johnny Rivers, in 1972, cut “Rockin’ Pneumonia…” which peaked at #6 on Billboard’s pop chart.

Huey Pierce Smith was born Jan. 26, 1934, in New Orleans, and learned to play boogie-woogie piano in the style of Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. When rhythm and blues gained popularity, Smith extended his influences to include local heroes such as Fats Domino and Professor Longhair. Smith wrote his first song at age eight and began performing in New Orleans clubs by the time he was 15.

At 18, Smith signed his first recording contract, with Savoy Records, and in 1955 he began playing on recording sessions, including releases by Little Richard, Lloyd Price and Earl King. In 1956, Smith signed with Ace Records and recorded several sides with the Rhythm Aces, a studio group that included Mac Rebennack, the future Dr. John, among others.

In 1957, Smith formed Huey Smith and the Clowns and recorded his composition “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” co-credited to former Specialty Records producer Johnny Vincent. (The song was recorded in two parts, with “Part 2” on the single’s B-side.) The single reached #5 on the Billboard R&B chart and although it only climbed to #52 on the pop chart, it remained a favorite for other artists to perform over the years.

“Don’t You Just Know It,” released in 1958, hit #4 on the Billboard R&B chart and #9 pop. Smith only placed two more singles on the pop chart, but neither song came close to matching the success of the other two. After leaving Ace Records, he continued to perform and record with the Clowns and under other names.

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In 1979, Smith made his debut at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and in 2000, he was honored with a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

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  1. Rich
    #1 Rich 16 February, 2023, 00:27

    Huey and The Clowns were fantastic. I remember hearing their music played at Mardi Gras parties, king cake parties, all up and down New Orleans in the 60s.

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