When Jerry Lee Lewis died last year, I wrote that “he was the last survivor of that first generation of rock stars.” But I was not aware at the time that Huey “Piano” Smith was still alive. Huey passed this week at the age of 89 — surprisingly young, considering that his big hits were in the mid-1950s. But he got started early, playing clubs and making records at the age of 15.
He was not quite as famous (or as infamous) as the Killer, and I’m not 100% sure that his music technically qualifies as rock’n’roll; it hews pretty close to New Orleans funk rhythms. But for that reason it is absolutely timeless and still sounds great today. I’m partial to “Rockin’ Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu,” but for our purposes here, let’s go with this lip-synced performance of “Don’t You Just Know It” from 1958. That’s Huey on the left.
Also on the Reaper’s list this week: Raquel Welch née Tejada. We don’t generally think of Raqual as Latina but she was; her father’s name Armando Carlos Tejada Urquizo. Most of us probably also think we saw her naked, but apparently she never appeared nude in any photographs or movies. Playboy pursued her for many years, and she did eventually appear in its pages — in a bikini bottom with one arm tastefully covering her breasts. “She declined to do complete nudity, and I yielded gracefully,” said Hugh Hefner, probably lying; I’ll bet Raquel left a lot of money on the table in that deal, and good for her.
I was a little too young to be of the generation Raquel ushered into manhood, but I appreciated her. How could you not? She seemed like a smart person who had mixed feelings about being a sex symbol — which just made her that much sexier.
Huey and Raquel both had good long runs; Dave Jolicoeur of De La Soul, who also died this week, was only 54. It’s taken decades of hip-hop fandom to enlighten me as to just how short the life expectancy of Black men is in this country. Just in the last few years we’ve lost The Gift of Gab, Biz Markie, Humpty Hump, and DMX, all of them around 50.
And those are just the deaths of natural causes.1 In my searches today I came across a page entitled “List of Deceased Rappers,” which sort of blew my mind; the list for 2022 alone is literally hundreds of names long. For most of them the cause of death is given as “shot and killed.”
I suppose a hardened cynic might say that’s a natural cause in a violent culture. But any way you look at it, it paints a pretty grim picture of the society we live in. Most of these guys were in their twenties. It that a loss we’re really willing to accept?
Well, a similar number of literal children get shot every year, and we seem to accept that. It’s a dark timeline we’re living in. I don’t know what to do about it either. Here’s a De La Soul song that turns grim reality into something uplifting; that’s the best I can do right now.