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New Orleans R&B great Huey 'Piano' Smith dies at 89

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. Let's take a moment to appreciate a great New Orleans bandleader.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T YOU JUST KNOW IT")

HUEY "PIANO" SMITH & HIS CLOWNS: (Singing) I can't lose with the stuff I use. Don't you just know it? Baby, don't believe I wear two left shoes. Don't you just know it? Ah, ha, ha, ha. Ah, ha, ha, ha. Hey, yo. Hey, yo.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In the mid- to late-'50s, Huey "Piano" Smith & His Clowns churned out classics like "Don't You Just Know It." That put Smith, who died last week, at the forefront of the New Orleans R&B sound that would heavily influence rock 'n' roll.

INSKEEP: A big influence, even though the record industry was not kind. Smith was routinely cheated out of royalties. And he largely stopped performing by the 1980s. He later declared bankruptcy. And according to his biographer, Huey "Piano" Smith had to pawn his piano.

FADEL: Dr. John was one of the many pianists who followed in Huey Smith's footsteps and fingertips, as he told NPR back in 2010.

DR JOHN: You could tell a New Orleans guy by not so much what he did, but what he left out, the space he left in the music to get a little more funky. It's like, if you listen to, say, Huey Smith's record of "I Got The Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu," the whole song is loaded with breaks to leave the drum a little extra space to just do something.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' PNEUMONIA AND THE BOOGIE WOOGIE FLU")

HUEY "PIANO" SMITH & HIS CLOWNS: (Singing) I got a rocking pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu.

DR JOHN: And it was just kind of the attitude of - all the guys did that. All of that influenced other people from other places that played down there a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' PNEUMONIA AND THE BOOGIE WOOGIE FLU")

HUEY "PIANO" SMITH & HIS CLOWNS: (Singing) And the boogie-woogie flu.

INSKEEP: Huey "Piano" Smith was 89 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' PNEUMONIA AND THE BOOGIE WOOGIE FLU")

HUEY "PIANO" SMITH & HIS CLOWNS: (Singing) I want to kiss her, but the gal too tall. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.