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From the archive: Blues musician Bill Doggett dies

Bill Doggett in an undated photo.

Bill Doggett in an undated photo. Credit: Handout

Note: This story was originally published in Newsday on Nov. 21, 1996.

He played piano and organ with some of the greatest names in jazz and rhythm-and-blues. But Bill Doggett, 80, who died last week at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, became an immortal in his own right on the basis of one record.

That was "Honky Tonk," a 1956 recording that spread over both sides of a 45-rpm single. This sweet-swinging, down-and-dirty example of lounge-club blues became a crossover hit, part of the then-burgeoning sonic landscape that the world came to know as rock and roll. By 1979 it had sold more than 3 million copies.

The Islip resident, who was born in Philadelphia, continued to lead his own blues bands through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, touring Europe regularly.

Mr. Doggett started out with his own band, which in 1938 toured with the Lucky Millinder band. A couple of years later, he was a full-time pianist with Millinder. Between 1942 and 1944 he was pianist and arranger with the Ink Spots. Throughout the rest of the decade he played with blues singer Jimmy Rushing and saxophonists Lucky Thompson and Illinois Jacquet.

In 1949 he became pianist with a group led by singer-saxophonist Louis Jordan, who set the pace for the postwar R&B boom. Following the path laid down by Wild Bill Davis, his predecessor in Jordan's band, Mr. Doggett added the organ to his repertoire.

When he left Jordan in 1951 to record with his own groups, he made the organ a basic staple of his hard-driving music. Among the musicians who played in Mr. Doggett's groups were guitarist Mickey Baker and saxophonists Earl Bostic and Percy France.

Mr. Doggett is survived by his wife, Angela, of Islip, and a brother, John, of St. Louis.

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