Huey “Piano” Smith, a New Orleans R&B legend and an early pioneer of rock n’ roll, has died at the age of 89.
Smith’s daughter, Acquelyn Donsereaux, confirmed her father’s death to the New Orleans Times-Picayune/Advocate, adding Smith died in his sleep Tuesday at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
A renowned boogie pianist who recorded alongside the likes of Little Richard, Lloyd Price, Earl King, and countless Big Easy musicians, Smith was best known for his Fifties recording “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.”
While the single was only a minor hit in 1957, its influence continued to be felt in the decades that followed as Johnny Rivers (who turned the track into a hit single in 1972), the Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, the Flamin’ Groovies, and more all covered the track.
While at Ace Records, Smith also wrote and recorded the single “Sea Cruise” in 1958; Smith’s vocals — but not his boogie piano — were ultimately stripped from the track and replaced by Frankie Ford, who had a platinum-selling hit with the single in 1959. “Sea Cruise” would later be covered by dozens of artists, including Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, the Beach Boys, the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, and more.
“Don’t You Just Know It,” the most successful single for Smith and his band the Clowns, was inspired by a catchphrase often said by their then-driver Rudy Ray Moore, the singer/comedian who would later create the character of Dolomite and have his own lasting impact on hip-hop. “Don’t You Just Know It” reemerged at the turn of the millennium when it featured prominently in the 2000 film Snatch.
Smith largely left music behind in the early Eighties, when he moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, but would sporadically perform at concerts and events that honored his legacy on R&B and rock, including the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
The late Dr. John, a protege of Smith’s, said the pianist (via nola.com) opened “the door to funk, basically as we know it, in some ridiculously hip way, and putting it in the mainstream of the world’s music.”