Smiley Lewis Biography
Smiley Lewis was a big-voiced New Orleans guitarist who, in the early 1950s, released some terrific R&B albums that did well for him but also went on to generate worldwide hits for other musicians. He came up with a formula for slow-rocking, small-band numbers like ‘The Bells Are Ringing’ and ‘I Hear You Knocking,’ only for Fats Domino to come up behind him with identical music delivered in a more ingratiating manner. Lewis was almost submerged in Domino’s backwash.
Overton Amos Lemons, his original name, was born in DeQuincey, Louisiana, in 1913, and grew up without his mother, Lillie Mae. He moved to New Orleans as a teenager, where he lived with an Irish family and took their surname.He began to score several bar gigs with pianist ‘Tuts’ Washington, posing as ‘Smiling Lewis,’ already a skilled guitarist with a booming voice. They also performed with a Dixieland band and entertained the troops at nearby Fort Polk during WWII. Smiley formed a trio with Tuts and drummer Herman Seals and played the Bourbon Street clubs until being discovered by DeLuxe Records, who produced ‘Here Comes Smiley’ in 1947.
Smiley’s early singles were well-received on jukeboxes in his hometown, and Dave Bartholemew led him to Cosimo Matassa’s little J&M studio in 1950 to record ‘Tee Nah Nah,’ which did well locally.Smiley’s own song, “The Bells Are Ringing,” had a national smash two years later on Imperial, followed by “Lillie Mae,” “Gumbo Blues,” and “Playgirl.”
Smiley put Bartholemew’s ‘Blue Monday’ into the R&B charts in 1954, opening the stage for Fats’ eventual massive cover, but Smiley’s ‘I Hear You Knockin’ climbed to No. 2 in the R&B charts in 1955, with Smiley singing over Huey Smith’s rocking piano triples. Smiley’s popularity was quickly eclipsed when a cover version by actress Kate Storm reached the top of the pop charts. Smiley’s albums continued to sell well, but Elvis Presley covered his emotional rendition of ‘One Night’ with cleaned-up lyrics.Smiley’s own song, ‘Shame, Shame, Shame,’ was featured in the 1956 film ‘Baby Doll,’ was redone by Aerosmith many years later, and was renamed an episode of the TV series ‘Tremé’ with altered lyrics.
Smiley was pushed by Lew Chudd to do more pop and country material, but it didn’t work out, and he ended up opening for Ernie K-Doe and Lee Dorsey on tour. Smiley was dropped by Imperial in 1961 and issued a few more songs on the Okeh and Dot labels, but even a re-release of his earlier hit ‘The Bells Are Ringing,’ produced by Allen Toussaint, failed to sell much outside of his hometown.
Lewis was admitted to the hospital in 1965 with an ulcer, but surgery revealed that he had stomach cancer. At La Ray’s on Dryades Street, Bartholomew organized a benefit for him. Lewis died three days before the event, on October 7, 1966, in the arms of Dorothy Ester Lemons, his second wife, whom he had married six months before.
Although none of Lewis’ Imperial singles sold more than 100,000 copies, other artists’ cover versions of his songs were extremely successful. Gale Storm’s pop cover of “I Hear You Knocking” charted in the top five.
Elvis Presley’s cover of Jerry Lee Lewis‘ “One Night” (with one risqué phrase changed) reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 list in the United States and number one on the UK Singles Chart. Lewis’ recording of “I Hear You Knocking” was broadcast at a time when radio in the United States was still primarily targeted at white or black listeners. Dave Edmunds’ rendition of the song was his first solo hit, reaching number one in the United Kingdom and number four in the United States in 1970.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Type Of Singer Was Smiley Lewis ?
Smiley Lewis was a popular American R&B and blues singer-songwriter from the 1940s to the 1960s. His biggest hit single, “I Hear You Knocking”, topped the Billboard R&B chart for seven weeks in 1955. Lewis was born in Louisiana and began his career performing in New Orleans clubs. He soon gained a following for his energetic and often humorous onstage performances. In the early 1950s, he began recording for Imperial Records, and his records became popular on the jukebox circuit. Lewis continued to record and perform until his death in 1966.
What Is Smiley Lewis Hit Song?
Smiley Lewis’ hit song “I Hear You Knocking” was released in 1955. It reached number two on the Billboard R&B chart and number four on the Billboard pop chart. The song has been covered by many artists, including Fats Domino, who had a hit with his version in 1957.
What Song Smiley Lewis Has Written?
“I Hear You Knocking” is a song written and recorded by Smiley Lewis in 1955. The song became a hit in 1957 when it was covered by Fats Domino. It has been recorded by many other artists, including the Rolling Stones, John Mellencamp, and Dave Edmunds.
Is Smiley Lewis Wrote Any Songs?
Yes, Smile Lewis wrote several songs including “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” “Don’t Wake Me Up Too Soon,” and “Down the Road Apiece.” He also wrote a number of blues standards that have been recorded by artists such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon.