JULY/AUGUST 2008

ROCKIN’ PNEUMONIA

AND THE BOOGIE-WOOGIE FLU

A review of the only known mechanically reproduced copy of a really great record.

I’m not entirely sure to what extent one of my favorite albums actually exists. Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns’ Rockin’ Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu is a CD of thirty songs by a New Orleans R&B group that had a couple of hits in 1957 and 1958. I picked it up somewhere in the early 1990s and still play it all the time. It has no liner notes, a slapdash design, and a label credit that simply reads “HRÖN RECORD CO, New Orleans, LA.” On the inside, there’s what appears to be a vintage ad: “It’s Sweeping the Country! And the only one that’s SELLING is on Hrön.” Another ad appears on the back cover, misspelling the name of one of Smith’s songs in bold type and announcing that it’s “S P R E A D I N G everywhere.”

The album is one long, ebullient party; it’s impossible to listen to it and be unhappy at the same time. The band generally sounds so drunk they can barely hold their instruments or keep from cracking up. Everything about them is a little bit vague: I’ve seen the same line from their hit “Don’t You Just Know It” transcribed as “high on a mountain, cool as a breeze” and “I don’t mind that culotte a bit,” both of which are reasonable approximations. The classic lineup of the Clowns only existed for a few years in the late ’50s, sometimes fronted by a female impersonator named Bobby Marchan, who went on to be one of the forces behind Cash Money Records four decades later.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Douglas Wolk

Douglas Wolk lives in Portland, Oregon, runs the record label Dark Beloved Cloud, and sings karaoke every Monday night. His most recent book is Reading Comics.

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