A Tribute to Piano Red aka Dr. Feelgood

“When Piano Red died in 1985, it wasn’t just his music that went away. A rare piece of Americana went with him,” Atlanta author David Fulmer writes in the liner notes to “The Lost Atlanta Tapes,” a set of recently rediscovered Piano Red live recordings, due out Aug. 17.

To celebrate the CD’s release and Piano Red’s life and music, there will be a special tribute concert on Aug. 12 at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta.

The Red Rockers — a band that includes musicians who played with Piano Red, such as guitarist Roy Lee Johnson, and longtime devotees, such as NRBQ keyboardist Terry Adams — will perform hits from the legendary R&B piano player’s huge catalog of recordings, including “Rockin’ with Red,” “Dr. Feelgood,” and his signature song, “The Right String (But the Wrong Yo-Yo).”

The man best known as Piano Red was born William Lee Perryman in Hampton in 1911 and moved to Atlanta with his family when he was six years old.

Though he started out playing blues in the 1930s with the likes of Blind Willie McTell, Red’s rollicking style evolved from multiple sources, like ragtime, stride and barrelhouse, and was influenced by piano greats like James P. Johnson and Fats Waller.

Rockers, including John Lennon, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton discovered the joys of Piano Red’s infectious music during the ’60s and ’70s.

Originally written and sung by Roy Lee Johnson and released on the B-side of Red’s “Dr. Feelgood,” Lennon recorded a cover of “Mr. Moonlight” with the Beatles in 1964.

Richards and Clapton often came to see Red at Muhlenbrink’s Saloon in Underground Atlanta, where he regularly performed from 1969 to 1979.

Terry Adams first met Red at Muhlenbrink’s, and the two piano players struck up a friendship that resulted in Red playing several shows with NRBQ.

“I gave him the piano chair, and mostly I just turned the band over to him,” Adams recalled. “It was a blast. When people would come up to meet us, he would point to me and, say, ‘I’m his idol.’ And it was true. I loved him.”

Adams may be the only person alive who can so deftly pull off Piano Red’s technique, which Adams calls, “happy piano.”

“There was this one tricky riff that he played, and I told him, ‘That kills me when you do that.’ He said, ‘You want me to show you how to do it?’ I gave it some deep thought, but I said, ‘No.’ I always wanted Red to have that one over me.”

Roy Lee Johnson, who grew up in Hoganville and lives in East Atlanta, is equally effusive about Red. Johnson played guitar with him in the early ’60s, in the period when Red used the name Dr. Feelgood and the Interns.

“If it hadn’t been for Red, there wouldn’t have been ‘Mr. Moonlight,’ I don’t think,” Johnson said. “But there were a lot of things I liked about Red. He was a businessman and we worked all the time. We probably played every college up and down the East Coast and around the South.”

Michael Rothschild, founder of Atlanta’s Landslide Records and the distributor of “The Lost Atlanta Tapes,” remembered booking Dr. Feelgood and the Interns for a college dance at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“What a superb band it was,” Rothschild said. “Tight, musically accomplished, sharply dressed and blessed with first-rate showmanship. They covered the hits of the day and rocked their originals superbly.

"For an audience of musically tuned-in students, Crescent City R&B was ubiquitous and in its heyday — Dr. Feelgood knew how to keep a college party rolling with the best of them.”

For many admirers, including Adams, Red was at his best playing with a band like the Interns, not solo for mouthy tourists at Muhlenbrink’s.

“That a major blues talent who also helped invent rock-and-roll was on window display five nights a week in what had become a rather seedy venue struck some as a damned crime,” Fulmer writes.

But into the ’80s, Red still enjoyed the attentions of rock stars, occasionally opened for major acts, and toured the European festival circuit.

Something of a final moment, “The Lost Atlanta Tapes” were recorded in 1984, when Red was playing four nights a week in the upstairs room at the Excelsior Mill on North Avenue, now home to the Masquerade.

By all accounts, it was a happy period, and that’s reflected in a jaunty set that includes lots of lively banter with an audibly appreciative audience.

“That was Red,” Adams said. “I remember one night we started a set and about a minute into the first song, he stopped the band. I thought something had gone wrong.

“But he looked out at the audience and he said, ‘I’m going to tell you something right now. If you’re not here to have a good time, you’re in the wrong house.’ ”

> A Tribute to Piano Red featuring the Red Rockers, 7:30 p.m. Aug.12, $12 advance/ $15 day of show. Smith’s Olde Bar, 1578 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, 404-875-1522, www.smithsoldebar.com