May 16, 2006

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.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

merci beaucoup & bon appetit

5:12 AM, May 17, 2006  
Blogger J Epstein said...

(Gooba gooba gooba gooba)

ha Ha Ha ha


6:42 AM, May 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone recommend a good compilation CD or box set of Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns? I've got some music here and there (including a Christmas CD from Europe) and would like to round it out with more especially the rarities. Thanks.

5:28 AM, May 23, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Carl, please see the Comments for the next post on Danny White, where bbb and I discuss the demise of Westside, which had compiled virtually everything Huey had out on Ace. Also, see my "comps" link in this current Clowns post for one of them. You can still find most of the Westside comps around and about; and AIM has comped some of the less obscure stuff by Huey and the gang.

12:27 PM, May 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Dan. I found some CD's of Smith's on ebay and purchased them including one Westside comp.

7:41 PM, May 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what's it's worth, I am now addicted to Huey "Piano" Smith & The Clowns music since receiving two Westside CD's. Another New Orleans artists I am hooked on. I just can't help myself.

10:44 AM, June 05, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Don't I just know it, Carl!

3:21 PM, June 05, 2006  
Blogger J Epstein said...

Dan - I just back tracked through some of your Hungry Williams links and found your appealing description of Paul Gayten's "For You My Love," and I just want to say thanks for the spotlight on that particular monster. That baby's a bitch for sure.


8:44 AM, June 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! On "Don't You Just Know It" I'm trying to figure out the lyric to the fourth stanza, the one the bass singer sings which SOUNDS like (but isn't):

"Heart of mine just cool on the breeze."

I've checked every lyric page Google returned and none of them has it right. Anyone??

And who IS that bass singer????

10:52 AM, December 17, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Wow, Bob. Always glad to hear from a man obsessed.

The bass voice in the Clowns at that point, I believe, was Roosevelt Wright. He's got a real mush mouth thing going on in the fourth verse, but it sounds like he's singing, "I don't mind they do it all day". Geri Hall's follow-up line sounds like "Young girls're
coco (loco?) the tighter they squeeze." Both are hard to get a handle on. Then again, in this song, the verse lyrics are just an excuse to get to the next chorus!

Anybody else?

11:04 PM, December 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha ha, obsessed. Yeah Dan, I love the song!

"I don't mind they do it all day" is an excellent guess and, listening again, you could be right! Mush mouth for sure LOL. Thanks for supplying Roosevelt Wright's name.

I believe the followup line is "Younger the couple, the tighter they squeeze."

Isn't that Bobby Marchan singing though? I thought Geri Hall came later.

11:05 AM, December 18, 2006  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

"Younger the couple..." but of course!

I am certain that Gerri Hall sings the duet with Wright. Marchan can be heard on the ha-has and other nonsense lyrics - and that's his falsetto at the fade - nothing like Hall's more quality soulful vocal. Marchan recruited her for the Clowns and, according to Jeff Hannusch's I Hear You Knockin', she was in the group when this was recorded. If you listen through headphones, you can hear her singing in the unison chorus, too, along with Marchan and the others. Anyway, that's how I hear it. The group traded off vocals alot over the years.

5:35 PM, December 18, 2006  
Anonymous guss Russo said...

...any chance that Earl Palmer is drumming on 'Don't You Just Know It' !?!

11:42 AM, November 12, 2013  

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