Wednesday, February 16, 2011


As a genre, 50's New Orleans R&B was highly over-saxed.  And saxiest of all was Huey "Piano" Smith's band which might be described as the low-life equivalent of Fats Domino’s hit machine.   Huey’s band featured careening shuffle rhythms, greasy saxophones in full honk, lots of nonsense lyrics, and oh yes…a female impersonator on vocals.  Huey's best song, for my money, was "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," and if that tickles your ear, it's probably the Johnny Rivers cover from '73 that you remember.  But when Huey Smith and the Clowns cut “Sea Cruise” for Ace Records in 1959, it was a near-perfect example of late 50s rock and roll, and destined for the charts from first listen.  The problem:  like many 50s recordings, it was a black record that sounded too black for the white market.  (As Little Richard said “Us greasy black mens was too dangerous for white girls fantasies.”)   Very often a whiteboy cover version would hit the street the minute a black hit broke…and stomp the original back into obscurity.  Ace Records was having none of that, so they scrapped Huey’s vocal track and recut it with white teenager Frankie Ford whose photo they prominately displayed on the sleeve.  Result:  Ace Records’ first top ten pop chart hit, Frankie Ford with Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns "Sea Cruise."