Huey "Piano" Smith
I’m trying to drop something upbeat and fun in my Friday posts, i.e. something that’ll give you a good start on the weekend, and remind you that work ain’t 24/7 (at least not yet). It’s in that spirit that I bring you one of the great party records of all time, ‘Don’t You Just Know It’ by Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns.
Years ago, when I was still known to imbibe like a condemned man on the loose, the wilds of Central Jersey were haunted by a pack of goons (and I mean that in a good way) known as the Swinging Neckbreakers. These cats had gotten together a seriously powerful garage punk unit (a few years past the sell-by date on the 80’s garage revival, but we won’t hold that against them). The Swinging Neckbreakers took the savage energy of forebears like the almighty Sonics and the alcohol-soaked ethos of a thousand 1960’s frat bands and brought it into the early 90’s. They were formidable on record, but absolutely DEADLY in person. Assuming that the audience had sopped up a fair amount of spirits (a VERY safe assumption to make), and the band was in good form (which they generally were), a raucous good time was guaranteed for all.
I remember (sort of....it’s one of those hazy memories that smells like old beer) a night at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ, around 1993, where the Neckbreakers were ending their set, and I (along with everyone else in the room) was sweaty, staggering, hoisting my stein and singing along. That’s when they did it...Out of their arsenal of true blue, guaranteed to stupefy musical weaponry, they pulled the rustiest sword of all. Projecting a sound that suggested that if the tune had been rehearsed, it had been only casually so, the Swinging Neckbreakers started to play ‘Don’t You Just Know It’. In no time at all, the entire drunken mob was wailing at the top of their lungs....
HA HA HA HA!!! HHEYYYYYYYYYYOOOOO!
GOOBA GOOBA GOOBA GOOBA!
WAH HA HA HA!
WAH HA HA HA!
It was a trancendant experience. For just a moment, if you squinted through the sweat pouring down your face, or stared through the bottom of your glass of beer, you were transported briefly to the basement of some long ago frat house (god knows the downstairs of the Court Tavern looked like someone’s basement...). It was kind of an ultimate party moment, taking full advantage of that feeling you get just before you realize you’ve had too much to drink and are still having fun.
Without the work of Huey “Piano’ Smith and his clowns, that moment (and countless others like it) would never have happened.
Smith started out playing piano for a numerous New Orleans greats, including Lloyd Price, Smiley Lewis and Little Richard. During the mid-50’s he assembled his band the Clowns and music was never the same again. With Bobby Marchan (among others) at the helm, the Clowns first hit in 1957 with ‘Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu’. ‘Don’t You Just Know It’ (backed by ‘High Blood Pressure’) was a two-sided hit in 1958 scaling both the Pop and R&B charts.
‘Don’t You Just Know It’ was an instant classic, and one of the great party records to come out of a town absolutely swimming in them. It has since been covered by many bands, and was a clear favorite of the Pacific Northwest frat rock crowd having been recorded by the Sonics, the Kingsmen and Paul Revere & The Raiders among others.
According to Jeff Hannusch’s liner notes for a New Orleans comp, the title of the song was a catch phrase of the Clowns bus driver, none other than a young Rudy Ray Moore, aka Dolemite.