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Album Review

The first in a series of historical reissues from the French Classics Records label that will collect Smiley Lewis' complete singles in order of release, 1947-1952 captures the venerable New Orleans blues shouter from his first sides for the Deluxe label to his signing with Imperial and such early hits as "The Bells Are Ringing" and "Ain't Gonna Do It." (However, fans will have to wait for a future volume to hear Lewis' biggest hit, "I Hear You Knocking.") While Lewis' fine and funky vocals (suggesting the Crescent City's answer to Big Joe Turner, meaning just as wild but more comfortably laid-back) are a joy to hear, the greatest appeal of these side are the superb players backing him up, with Tuts Washington on piano, Lee Allen and Dave Bartholomew leading the horn players, and Earl Palmer behind the drum kit. The recordings get more elaborate and full-bodied with each session, while the loose-but-tight New Orleans groove and Lewis' throaty swagger remain consistent on all 22 sides here, and on the rare occasions when Lewis' guitar is mic'ed and audible, his licks add even more frantic energy to these performances. Those looking for a single-disc overview of Smiley Lewis' recording career should pick up The Best of Smiley Lewis: I Hear You Knocking, but folks who want the Lewis story writ large will find this to be a great starting point — let's hope Classics follows through with the rest of this series!


Born: 05 July 1913 in DeQuincy, LA

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s

Dave Bartholomew has often been quoted to the effect that Smiley Lewis was a "bad luck singer," because he never sold more than 100,000 copies of his Imperial singles. In retrospect, Lewis was a lucky man in many respects -- he enjoyed stellar support from New Orleans' ace sessioneers at Cosimo's, benefited from top-flight material and production (by Bartholomew), and left behind a legacy of marvelous Crescent City R&B. Born with the unwieldy handle of Overton Lemons, Lewis hit the Big Easy in...
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1947-1952, Smiley Lewis
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