Mojo (UK)

Huey ‘Piano’ Smith


Crescent City legend BORN 1934

FROM JELLY ROLL Morton to Jon Batiste, New Orleans is a city that’s never gone begging when it comes to keyboard talent. There just happens to be one – the reclusive and retiring Huey ‘Piano’ Smith – that the aforementi­oned players will routinely cite as their North Star of boogie-woogie, protorock’n’roll and Gulf Coast rhythm & blues weirdness. “Huey is a major part of the whole thing,” Dr. John told Smith’s biographer, Louisiana newspaperm­an John Wirt. Dr. John played on many of the same sessions at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio as legendary drummer Earl Palmer, who said, “Huey was the personific­ation of New Orleans piano players.”

Born in New Orleans, Smith, like his contempora­ry Fats Domino, watched R&B and boogie as it became rock’n’roll. More than that, he helped that happen, as a member of the pantheon who honed their talent at the Dew Drop Inn in Uptown New Orleans. His band, the Clowns, brought together the most wild and flamboyant members of that influentia­l gang: Bobby Marchan, the young James Booker, Guitar Slim, Earl King, and singer Gerri Hall all fronted or filled in for the raw boogie pianist who preferred to hang back, pounding out the notes with a heavy left hand. Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu and Sea Cruise, which hit the Top 20 sung by white New Orleanian vocalist Frankie Ford in 1959, are probably Smith’s most famous cuts; more eccentric songs, like Don’t You Just Know It and Don’t You Know Yockomo, with raucous call-and-response group vocals that sound like some wild South Louisiana party, still soundtrack the Mardi Gras season.

A Jehovah’s Witness who had forgone secular music for 40 years, Smith left this earth aged 89 on February 13. New Orleans sang along with him, and always will.

Alison Fenstersto­ck

 ?? ?? Boogie in his bones: Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, soundtrack­ing the Mardi Gras.
Boogie in his bones: Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, soundtrack­ing the Mardi Gras.

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