Get You Some
"Chitt'lins" (Huey Smith)
Huey Smith and the Clowns, unreleased Ace session, c. 1962-1964
As often happens here at HOTG, I was looking for something else and ran across several unreleased sides associated with Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Clowns that I hadn’t heard since my radio days. So, I thought I’d feature a couple of ‘em this week. First up is a track from around 1962 with a great groove. I don’t know why it didn’t make it to record, as it’s a little cooker; but there is a tape problem around 1:30 that is probably on the master – as I have this song on two different comps, and it is evident on both. So, it could have been passed over for that reason. I think “Chitt’lins” lives up to the following observation about Smith’s music:
The entire repertoire of Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Clowns is a case study in New Orleans mixed timing. . . The loose group singing, the horn riffs, the piano licks and Hungry Williams’ hi-hat patterns: they each seem to have their own rhythmical articulation – which created that joyous party feel in every song. – Antoon Aukes, from Second Line 100 Years Of New Orleans Drumming
Yeah you right! That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. Thank you Mr. Aukes. While Huey Smith has recalled that Smokey Johnson played drums on “Chitt’lins”, a later recording for Ace, that’s OK, since Smokey was another hot, influential local beatman of the period, and the observation still generally holds true. One of New Orleans great pianists, producers/arrangers, and king of the novelty songwriters, Smith had a true gift for conveying the spirit of his city in his songs and recordings. Stories go that the group’s live shows were far wackier and wilder than any studio-sourced 45 could convey.
Charles ‘Hungry’ Williams was the drummer of record on most of Smith’s sessions with the Clowns on Ace, at least up until their departure from the label in 1959. As we’ve discussed before about Hungry, he had an innovative flair for merging Latin/Caribbean rhythms with New Orleans second line syncopation; and there are nice examples of that in the recordings of the Clowns. On “Chitt’lins” Smokey Johnson, too, demonstrates some funked up latino beats, although you may notice that his rhythms here have little or no high end action. Williams would have had more going on the cymbal bell and/or hit-hat. Also, on this tune, I think someone other than the drummer is playing the clave style cowbell. But, as a whole, the compounding of simple rhythm patterns by the voices and instruments with the more complex syncopations of Johnson’s trap set makes for an exuberant, movement-inciting groove. As with many later funk tunes, the lyrics here are nearly superfluous. Where they are placed in the song rhythmically and their repetitive hook are really more important than what they say.
I’ve got to admit, though, that this line, at least, is pretty damn evocative:
You got greasy lips. You got a gravy chin. Boy you been eatin’ those chitt’lins.
The Clowns had a revolving cast of band members and vocalists over the years. Not a strong singer, Smith rarely ever took the lead, especially after hiring his main vocalist, Bobby Marchan, in the late 1950’s, whose tenor is so recognizable on hits such as “High Blood Pressure” and "Don’t You Just Know It”. Regular supporting singers who took an occasional lead were Gerri Hall, John ‘Scarface’ Williams, and Junior Gordon. After Marchan left the group for a solo career around 1960, Curley Moore, Pearl Edwards and Jesse Thomas were featured singers during the few remaining years of the group’s existence. It’s Thomas and, probably, Edwards whose vocals are most prominent on “Chitt’lins”. Of the other players and singers on this session, I have no accounting.
From 1960 through 1961, Smith and the band were signed to Imperial records, releasing a number of decent sides produced by Dave Bartholomew that didn’t do much commercially. When Imperial dropped them, Smith rejoined Ace Records until the label became dormant around 1964; and it was likely in this period that “Chitt’lins” got cooked up. And, I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the musical dish.