This LP of early (1950-54) Smiley Lewis tracks was issued on the K.C. label in 1984. Judging by the rough sound quality on some of the tracks it was probably a bootleg mastered from 45s. I posted “Caldonia’s Party” on the original Be Bop Wino blog back in May 2009 and prior to reposting I’ve been giving it another listen. It’s a blast. A fantastic sequence of R&B pounders with shrieking sax solos by the likes of Lee Allen and Herb Hardesty. There are only two of Smiley’s hits in this selection (“The Bells Are Ringing” and “Blue Monday”) but there just ain’t a weak track on the LP.
On many of these tracks Smiley sounds remarkably like Big Joe Turner. It’s rough, raw stuff with lots of blistering rockers included, especially “Dirty People”, “Ain’t Gonna Do It”, “Big Mamou”, “Playgirl” and “Caldonia’s Party”. Sure, there are plenty of crackles and pops on this old slice of vinyl, but those of you who like your R&B rowdy and raucous will not be deterred by that.
Born Overton Amos Lemons on July 5th, 1913, near Lake Charles, Louisiana, Smiley moved to New Orleans in 1931 where he boarded with a family whose surname (Lewis) he adopted, or so the story goes. He spent the 1930’s working as a guitarist and vocalist in jazz bands performing in and around New Orleans and in the late 1940’s, billed as Smiling Lewis, cut his first records for De Luxe Records. In 1950 he began a decade long recording stint with Lew Chudd’s Imperial Records.
Smiley had good selling R&B hits with “Tee Nah Nah” (1950) and “The Bells Are Ringing” (1952). “Blue Monday”, written by Dave Bartholomew, was another good seller in 1954, but became a much bigger hit when covered by Fats Domino two years later. In mid 1955 Smiley had his biggest hit by far with “I Hear You Knocking”, reaching number two in the R&B chart. Unfortunately for Smiley, a cover version by Gale Storm cornered the pop sales, taking the record to number two in the Billboard pop chart.
Recorded in late 1955, “One Night” was a number eleven R&B hit for Smiley in early 1956. Elvis released a cleaned up version two years later, reaching number four in the pop charts and number ten in the R&B charts. Smiley’s “One Night Of Sin” (with all that that implies) had somehow become “One Night With You” and that was the way to pop success back then. However, many years later another version by Elvis which was much closer to the Smiley original did surface on some compilations.
As the 1950’s wore on, Smiley’s record sales fell away although there was the occasional good rocker like “Rootin’ and Tootin’”. His recording contract with Imperial was terminated in 1960. He had a few more releases on Okeh and Loma but died from cancer in 1966.
Smiley’s chart career may not have brought him the success his talent deserved, but he has left us a legacy of prime New Orleans R&B which we can still enjoy today. Both Rev-Ola and Bear Family have CD reissues of Smiley’s work currently available. See the bottom of this post for more details.
Ripped from vinyl at 320 kbps. Password = greaseyspoon
Download from here:
1. My Baby Was Right
2. Growing Old
4. Where Were You
5. Dirty People
6. Sad Life
7. Bee's Boogie
8. The Bells Are Ringing
9. Gumbo Blues
10. Ain't Gonna Do It
11. You're Not The One
12. Big Mamou
13. Caldonia's Party
14. Oh Baby
16. Blue Monday
Be Bop Wino recommends:
Mama Don’t Like It! 1950 – 56 (Rev-Ola Bandstand) – 33 tracks of primo Smiley, also available as an mp3 download from Amazon UK. A good value comp which comes in at a nice mid price.
Smiley Rocks (BCD 16676 AR) is a recently released 36 (!) tracker on Bear Family. This one costs rather more than the Rev-Ola comp, as Bear Family (like Ace) use original masters and don’t confine themselves to public domain recordings.
If you’re browsing the second hand CD racks you should look out for this 30 track compilation which came out on Sequel in 1990 – “New Orleans Bounce: 30 Of His Best”. 1990: that’s twenty years ago. Where has the time gone? Or more pertinently, where is it going?