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Professor Longhair

Justly worshipped a decade and a half after his death as a founding father of New Orleans R&B, Roy "Professor Longhair" Byrd was nevertheless so down-and-out at one point in his long career that he was reduced to sweeping the floors in a record shop that once could have moved his platters by the boxful.

That Longhair made such a marvelous comeback testifies to the resiliency of this late legend, whose Latin-tinged rhumba-rocking piano style and croaking, yodeling vocals were as singular and spicy as the second-line beats that power his hometown's musical heartbeat. Longhair brought an irresistible Caribbean feel to his playing, full of rolling flourishes that every Crescent City ivories man had to learn inside out (Fats Domino, Huey Smith, and Allen Toussaint all paid homage early and often).

Longhair grew up on the streets of the Big Easy, tap dancing for tips on Bourbon Street with his running partners. Local 88s aces Sullivan Rock, Kid Stormy Weather, and Tuts Washington all left their marks on the youngster, but he brought his own conception to the stool. A natural-born card shark and gambler, Longhair began to take his playing seriously in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club. Owner Mike Tessitore bestowed Longhair with his professorial nickname (due to Byrd's shaggy coiffure).

Longhair debuted on wax in 1949, laying down four tracks (including the first version of his signature "Mardi Gras in New Orleans," complete with whistled intro) for the Dallas-based Star Talent label. His band was called the Shuffling Hungarians, for reasons lost to time! Union problems forced those sides off the market, but Longhair's next date for Mercury the same year was strictly on the up-and-up. It produced his first and only national R&B hit in 1950, the hilarious "Bald Head" (credited to Roy Byrd & His Blues Jumpers).

The pianist made great records for Atlantic in 1949, Federal in 1951, Wasco in 1952, and Atlantic again in 1953 (producing the immortal "Tipitina," a romping "In the Night," and the lyrically impenetrable boogie "Ball the Wall"). After recuperating from a minor stroke, Longhair came back on Lee Rupe's Ebb logo in 1957 with a storming "No Buts - No Maybes." He revived his "Go to the Mardi Gras" for Joe Ruffino's Ron imprint in 1959; this is the version that surfaces every year at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Other than the ambitiously arranged "Big Chief" in 1964 for Watch Records, the '60s held little charm for Longhair. He hit the skids, abandoning his piano playing until a booking at the fledgling 1971 Jazz & Heritage Festival put him on the comeback trail. He made a slew of albums in the last decade of his life, topped off by a terrific set for Alligator, Crawfish Fiesta.

Longhair triumphantly appeared on the PBS-TV concert series Soundstage (with Dr. John, Earl King, and the Meters), co-starred in the documentary Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together (which became a memorial tribute when Longhair died in the middle of its filming; funeral footage was included), and saw a group of his admirers buy a local watering hole in 1977 and rechristen it Tipitina's after his famous song. He played there regularly when he wasn't on the road; it remains a thriving operation.

Longhair went to bed on January 30, 1980, and never woke up. A heart attack in the night stilled one of New Orleans' seminal R&B stars, but his music is played in his hometown so often and so reverently you'd swear he was still around. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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First time I heard fess.I was blown away. Always makes me smile. Amazing music for sure!
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Tonight Da Night The Big Party Hardy iDiwn Dare in New New Orleans Louisiana Professor Longhair Good Stuff
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You said it, chiefs.
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esprit_desca l i e r
Like a big tall glass of f*ck yeah!
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No better way to start 2015 than with Fess.
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Rum & Coca Cola - what a terrific rendition !
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Gets inside you-makes the hair on your arms stand up.Rock-n-ro l l gumbo was a revelation .
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We LOOOOOOOOOOO O O V E u, "FESS"!!!!!! ! ! :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)
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Think you know how to play music? Sit in on one of Professor Longhair's classes. You'll know you've been schooled, and there ain't no doubt the Professor can teach you a thing or two.
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lol
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be careful who you call BALDY>>>a bear may get you
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As a north carolinian, 'fess is what Americans could use, along with Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, John Coltrane, Ramones, Fugazi, Cold Crush Brothers, Doc Watson, the Impressions, Johnny Cash, and Chuck Brown as PURE AMERICAN SOUNDS!
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oldsalt_1942
I was SO lucky to have been living in New Orleans when the Fess was alive. I used to go see him at Tipitina's a lot. . . except for the last time he was there. My girlfriend and I were driving down St. Charles and as we came to Napoleon I asked her if she wanted to drop in for a set. She said, No, I'm really tired. We'll catch him the next time. Well, there was no next time. He died at his home a few hours later. I did go to his jazz funeral, though. It was the coldest day of the year.
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Professor Longhair...a great talent and overlooked artist
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Who,s Whistling on these ?
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My mojo is working!! Lol ❌❤❌❤
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Im the guy that saw the girl's wig blow away
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I'm the guy who brought the publisher to New Orleans to purchase the Longhair publishing and fix the legacy of him dying poor.
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kinda a chop chop on that there piano let it roll a little
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Kinda thought is was Fats Domino at first oh dear Lord rattle that piano justone time more
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another one of pgh's porky favorites
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Digging it!! ❌⭕❌⭕
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I grew up in the great state of Louisiana and this music was a part of our daily lives! This music brings me closer to my father's era in New Orleans! From roughly `43 to `55/`56! Then off and on from than.
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Porky Chedwick Pittsburgh played tis in early 50's!
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dougwallace7
I've love listing to N,O blues music, I just discovered Prof. Longhair while watching a PBS special. Now I have to listen to all his albums.
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Love all the music!
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Fess Rocks!!!!
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arbettencour t
Professor Longhair is amazing.
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If there isn't a statute of Longhair in Nawlins, there should be. One of the true greats of americana.
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I want to hear more-more- more
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johnh_23
I really knew nothing of Professor Longhair until I heard his going to the mardi gra song that just had an impact on me to hear more of his music. It is unfortunate to take so long to know of him, and I think he is great with the music he made.
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the professor will make you a believer
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AND play piano like THIS
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thatrealtorg u y i n s h o r t s
Check out David Bowie's piano track against Professor Longhair (Roy Bird), especially TVC15... can't mistake the licks...
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Nobody, nobody, NOBODY can bang out the boogie woogie bass piano line like the Professor. Feel good music at the top of the blues heap, no dispute!
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I've been digging the Louisiana sound a lot lately. It's pretty easy to draw a line from Roy Byrd to Marcia Ball, with all the talented points in between.
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meg49979
1st time i heard him i bookdmarked him.
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antonin.pett u s
anybody else grow up in New Orleans? This is like mother's milk to most of us. Not much better, not nobody, not nohow.
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affajbar
bon'ton roulett
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Professor Longhair was one of the best,there were so many great blues players and singers,just like to set back and listen to them all day..so many of them are gone now but Pandora sees to it that we hear them all again..
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great N.O. piano blues. i never get tired of "big chief". you gotta hear it!
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"Boogie Woogie, what fingerwork. What a remarkable singing style! Professor Longhair is worthy of the ages and hopefully will be."
Peace, Love, Hippie Stuff,
Wayward Bill http://heyno w u n i t e d s t a t e s . s p a c e s . l i v e . c o m /
Report as inappropriate
queenbz
'Fess will speak to us long after we who are here now are gone & acoustic pianos are history..The recording "Live at Tipatina's" is pretty rough.
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michaelhaydn m v
Wow!!
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lsujohn
Laissez les bon temps roulez...let the good times roll! Geaux LSU!
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ocpianoman
Long live the Professor! - hope youngsters learn to love this music as much as I have.

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