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Huey "Piano" Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues

312 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / 9 halftones

ebook available


  Hardcover / 9780807152959 / March 2014
Huey “Piano” Smith’s musical legacy stands alongside that of fellow New Orleans legends like Dr. John, Fats Domino, Ernie K-Doe, and Allen Toussaint. His 1957 classic, “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” made Billboard’s top R&B singles chart, and hundreds of artists including Aerosmith, the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, Johnny Rivers, and Chubby Checker have recorded his songs.
The first biography of the artist responsible for hits “Don’t You Just Know It,” “High Blood Pressure,” and “Sea Cruise,” Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues follows the musician’s extraordinary life from his Depression-era childhood to his teen years as a pianist for blues star Guitar Slim to his mainstream success in the 1950s and ’60s. Drawing from extensive interviews and court records, author and journalist John Wirt also provides new insights on Smith’s professional disappointments and financial struggles in the 1980s and ’90s as he battled over royalties from his most successful and profitable work. 
An enigmatic and guarded personality in a profession of extroverted performers, Smith made far-reaching contributions to the New Orleans music scene as a songwriter, pianist, and producer. Wirt reveals that Smith’s numerous collaborations with other artists—including the Clowns, the Pitter Pats, the Hueys, and Shindig Smith and the Soul Shakers—served as vehicles for his creative vision rather than simply as an anonymous backup for a leading front man.
Throughout this intimate account, Wirt details Smith’s significant impact on rock and roll history and underscores both the longevity of his music—which has entertained and inspired for over five decades—and the musician’s personal endurance in the face of hardship and opposition.

JOHN WIRT has covered music, film, and entertainment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, and The Advocate's Baton Rouge and New Orleans editions.

Praise for Huey "Piano" Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues

“All of it presents a hefty task for a biographer, and journalist John Wirt delivers a thoroughly researched narrative in Huey ‘Piano’ Smith And The Rocking Pneumonia Blues (Louisiana State University Press). . . . An account that’s as multidimensional as the musician.”—Aaron Cohen, Downbeat

“Wirt's interviewed dozens of people, including the reclusive Smith, plowing through mountains of legal papers to render a clear and unbiased recounting of events. The first half of the book unfolds in an almost cinematic fashion in documenting New Orleans' early R&B scene. The second half is tragic, and Wirt reports it without flinching.”—Ed Ward, Austin Chronicle

“For a text so packed with information, Rocking Pneumonia Blues is a rollicking read. . . . Wirt adds another piece to the codified history of New Orleans music, and one of its least-documented major characters.”—Alison Fensterstock, New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Put Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues on your summer reading list. It’s both a chronicle of the soaring possibilities of craft — and an inspiring example of it.”—Danny Heitman, Baton Rouge Advocate

“Wirt places Smith in his rightful place in the pantheon with great descriptions of both the music and the scene that was full of creativity and wildness for which the golden age of New Orleans rhythm and blues has become both famous and notorious. Wirt’s research is excellent; he is great with the music history and the legal history of Smith’s series of lawsuits to get back and retain the rights to his songs.”—Offbeat

“John Wirt's book is an invaluable study of both Smith's music and all other things New Orleans during that era, as well as the later admirable legal struggles. What is so fascinating is how all those incredible recordings came to be, the endless line of colorful characters who made it happen, and then the blatant thievery by those who were supposed to be looking out for the musicians. Very few in New Orleans escaped those pitfalls, and it's a shameful history of how it happened. Wirt's got the goods to tell the true facts, and has written a book for music lovers and those who study the business of music alike. Required reading.”—Bill Bentley, Morton Report

Huey “Piano” Smith And The Rocking Pneumonia Blues stands as a call for justice for all musicians of that era who were, essentially, robbed. It’s a sobering  yet fiercely necessary read.”—Leigh Checkman, Antigravity

“As Dr. John puts it in John Wirt’s engrossing biography, pointing up the reverence his Crescent City brethren have for Smith: 'I credit Huey with opening the door for funk, basically as we know it, in some ridiculously hip way, and putting it in the mainstream of the world's music.'”─Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“For many fans and scholars of New Orleans’ rhythm and blues heydays of the 1950s and ‘60s, every newly published quote, story or insight provided by the music’s purveyors becomes a jewel. John Wirt’s biography of the great Huey 'Piano' Smith offers a treasure chest of such precious gifts not only furnished by the book’s worthy subject but by those who surrounded the legendary pianist/vocalist/composer who created such gems as 'Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu' and Don’t You Just Know It.”—Louisiana Weekly

“Author John Wirt’s engrossing Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues finally reveals the truth in fascinating detail through the words of the enigmatic musician himself. . . . Essential reading for any fan of both the piano master and the early days of New Orleans rhythm and blues when the Crescent City was a prime force in shaping the American music scene.”—Gene Tomko, Living Blues

“You may never have heard of him, but you for certain have somewhere along the line heard his music. . . . For those of you fascinated with this period of music and those who made it, Wirt’s Huey ‘Piano’ Smith is an excursion into another world, beautiful and awful.”—Harry Kollatz Jr., Richmond Magazine

“A feverish biography . . . Wirt weaves an engrossing story of an extraordinarily gifted musician.”—4-star review by Terry Staunton, Record Collector (United Kingdom)

“For the first ever biography of the influential figure in American music, author John Wirt was able to interview the piano pounder, along with musicians who played with him and other associates. His story had never been told in such detail.”—Shepherd Express

“Fascinating and meticulously researched. . . . One of the best music bios in recent years.”—Bill Dahl, ARSC Journal

“John Wirt's thoroughly researched book, which places [Smith] front and centre stage, reclaims for Smith his rightful place in New Orleans music.”—Des Cowley, Rhythms

“This book is wonderful! Huey has been so influential, and beloved, in addition to being one of the great New Orleans R&B pianists, but his story has not been well known until John's great and loving documentation.”—George Winston, pianist

“Huey ‘Piano’ Smith stands tall as one of the major creators of New Orleans rhythm & blues. As such he also made a significant mark on the totality of American popular music. Smith’s infectiously fun, funky songs continue to delight listeners more than half a century after he created them. Tragically, however, Smith’s dealings with the music business have been anything but delightful. Drawing on meticulous research, John Wirt tells Smith’s story here in terms of both joyous artistic achievements and grim, demoralizing exploitation. Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues illuminates the vital role of a great talent in an important chapter in Louisiana music history.”—Ben Sandmel, author of Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans

"John Wirt has done his usual meticulous job of chronicling a special time for New Orleans music. If you love R&B, you’ll love his book."—Smiley Anders, The Advocate

Learn more about Huey Smith!

LISTEN: Interview with John Wirt on Michael Shelley's show on WFMU (7 June 2014)

LISTEN: Interview with John Wirt on WFMU's Fool's Paradise with Rex (19 April 2014)

LOOK: Check out these additional photos, provided by John Wirt

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