Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Huey “Piano” Smith / James Booker /
Crackin’ the Cosimo Code

Robert Christgau
May 1, 2015 · 4 min read

Huey “Piano” Smith: Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu

(Hallmark)

Huey Smith newbies beware: make sure the “Rockin’ Pneumonia” on your confusing Spotify list or crappy-looking reissue runs 2:17 or so rather than 3:11 or so, because the longer version that now dominates both the streamosphere and online retail was cut for an Allen Toussaint who paid Huey even worse than Ace’s Johnny Vincent — in the ‘70s no less, when the poor guy was up to his nose in Jehovah and failure and the endless slog of prying his money away from Johnny Vincent. My favorite Ace comp is Music Club’s out-of-print 18-track This Is . . . Huey “Piano” Smith, still findable used if you’re flush and quick; the 31-track Jax 501 with the same title as the one I’m featuring also looks good. But this more findable albeit shorter item covers most of the bases however much I miss “Beatnik Blues” and “Pop-Eye” and the nutty “Would You Believe It (I Have a Cold).” When his original cast of pranksters augmented his congenial chops and expert groove, piano maestro Smith had as much rock and roll in him as Fats Domino or Bo Diddley. Recording for hang-loose con man Vincent in Jackson rather than friendly professional Cosimo Matassa in New Orleans, he and his Clowns fell into an irreverent merriment in which collectivity was of the essence. His virtuosity and his commitment to fitting in were both so principled that they generated just plain fun in more ways than we can count, because That’s the way that great prize just plain fun is. A


James Booker: Gonzo

(RockBeat)

Live in Germany, 1976‑-everything the virtuoso fonk-classical-cocktail piano man played for two shows, it looks like. I personally didn’t want to hear even one “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” and often the songs of hope and brotherly love deliquesce into mush, but there are loads of on-the-other-hands. The florid fanfare that evolves into “Sixty Minute Man” before your unsuspecting ears will possibly fool and definitely delight you twice, when it switches over to “You Talk Too Much” if not before. Booker likes him some medley effects‑-the one billed as “All by Myself/Let the Four Winds Blow” also includes a verse of “I’m in Love Again.” “Tipitina” and “Junco Partner” and “Rockin’ Pneumonia” are his by eminent domain, the Dr. John songs somehow not. “Tico Rico” and “Besame Mucho” make a fine pair. And let me mention the one about his mother called “Ora,” because it convinces me that she’s always worth mentioning. A MINUS


Cracking the Cosimo Code: 60s New Orleans R&B and Soul

(Ace)

Consumer advisory: check track listing before considering purchase. Any non-owner of three or more of the six certified classics herein‑-by Jessie Hill, Earl King, Chris Kenner, Lee Dorsey, Robert Parker, and Aaron Neville — should proceed directly to checkout. For seasoned New Orleans curiosity seekers, these 24 selections are less essential, especially as they embrace full-on soul. But not counting one pathetic twist number, the dance trifles make their presence known, and the full-on jokes are funny every time out. By the ‘60s, New Orleans music was too fully industrialized for Cosimo Matassa’s studio to dominate anymore — Allen Toussaint had taken over by then. But the spread of local talent and the Big Easy ethos produced pleasurable marginalia in quantities no one will ever sort out. Consumer advisory: check Willie Tee’s “Teasin’ You” and Oliver Morgan’s “Who Shot the Lala” if you think I’m jiving. B PLUS


Huey “Piano” Smith: That’ll Get It (Even More of the Best) (Westside) Smith-penned/produced oddments that include one Huey-plus-Clowns essential, eight previously unreleaseds, and much amiable joking around (Bobby Marchan and the Clowns, “Would You Believe It [I Have a Cold]”; Danny White, “Educated Fool”; the Clowns, “Barbara”; Jesse Thomas, “Baby Won’t You Turn Me On”) **


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Robert Christgau

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A rock critic since 1967, I aint stopping now. My current gigs are with Billboard, Barnes & Noble Review, NPR, and NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music

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