Professor Longhair
December 19, 2002 7:24 PM   Subscribe

"Picasso of keyboard funk" - Professor Longhair would be 84 today if he were still alive. His distinctive meld of boogie woogie, blues, funk and Latin makes for piano that is quintessentially New Orleans...Tipitinas, one of the more famous local music bars, took its name from his signature song. "Fess" was a seminal influence on such musical greats as James Booker, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Art Neville, Doctor John and Marcia Ball, one of my current favorites. You can hear a few Fess samples from Crawfish Fiesta, arguably his best recording, issued just after he died in 1980. He was inducted in the R&R Hall of Fame as an early influencer in 1993. Happy birthday, Professor!
posted by madamjujujive (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
And a happy birthday from me too -- the Professor has always made me happy, so I hope he's happy, wherever he is. (When I saw this post I just assumed it was y2karl. Thanks, madam!)
posted by languagehat at 7:37 PM on December 19, 2002

As a piano player in the blues and jazz idiom, I have to say that Prof Longhair is the inspiration for some of my more crowd-pleasing improvisations.

If music is supposed to make people happy...well, mad props to Professor Longhair!
posted by kozad at 8:14 PM on December 19, 2002

Madam, I am swooning with delight here. Professor Longhair, Doctor John, and Art Neville? Be still my heart! My father is a huge blues fan and my grandmother's cousin used to be part-owner of Tipitina's, so I grew up with the Professor's face on the living room wall and his music in the background. [/unnecessary personal detail] It's great to learn more about him. Thanks!

The second link also connects to an enjoyable article in praise of Bo Diddley: "I'm a Man" is so ballsy that I'm surprised our nation survived it at all...arguably the best opening lines ever written by anyone, including Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson and Gabriel García fuckin' Márquez: "Now when I was a little boy / At the age of five / I had something in my pocket / Keep a lot of folks alive."
posted by hippugeek at 8:15 PM on December 19, 2002

Languagehat, y2karl is far more knowledgeable about the blues than I...if Fess is one of his favorites, I hope he will have something to say. I am sure Chuq, being a resident expert on Louisiana music and food, could also add to the discussion.

I am neither a musician nor technically astute, music-wise - just a fan. But I feel a special kinship for the Professor, not just because I am crazy for his music, but also because we share a birthday - a happy little bit of mojo for me.

Kozad, I will look forward to your observations in the musical threads. Let me know if you ever play in Boston.

What a fortunate musical heritage you have, hippugeek! You should dig into your dad's musical cache and chat up your great aunt who must have some wonderful stories. I was only in Tipitinas once but had a great time dancing to Rockin Dopsie who joined Professor Longhair in the musical hereafter about ten years ago.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:03 PM on December 19, 2002

excellent post madam!

on preview: and happy birthday too!
posted by djeo at 9:05 PM on December 19, 2002

Proper Records has a whole series of 4 CD box sets with, well, proper notes and all this for barely more than $20. Here's the discography and track listings for Gettin' Funky - The Birth of New Orleans R&B. I've got Broke, Black and Blue, Cowboys, Playboys and Doughboys, The Dawn of Doo Wop and Cool Cole. Just picked the Spike Jones tonight for an Xmas present for that certain party. The packages are so nice, the notes so extensive and the price so low, that if ever I was tempted to do one of those product review posts, the first would be for Proper.
posted by y2karl at 9:13 PM on December 19, 2002

Oh, gee, thanks for the thought and happy birthday, too, my wee Sagittarius.
posted by y2karl at 9:16 PM on December 19, 2002

Cool Cole, huh? Hmm... {checks wallet}
posted by rushmc at 9:49 PM on December 19, 2002

Man, the King Cole Trio stuff is the greatest--and being a British label, you get tracks you can't get here at the moment. It is so wonderful--everyone's probably heard the Trio's Route 66 and It's Only A Paper Moon but Embraceable You and For All We Know are simply transcendental. You will get a religous feeling, I'm tellin' ya....
And you get about a hundred or more tracks for twenty bucks, too. You should be feeling the spirit over that alone.
posted by y2karl at 9:57 PM on December 19, 2002

You should dig into your dad's musical cache...

Alas, most of his true treasures are on records--and our player has been broken since long before I got interested in them. I've been consoling myself with his enormous boxed sets of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

...and chat up your great [uncle, actually] who must have some wonderful stories.

I'm sure he does--his escapades are infamous in the family. It was customary for kids of my mom's generation to spend a week with him while in college, and they all decline to provide details of the goings-on... A blurb I found about him says he "has spent three decades trying to listen to enough New Orleans music to transmute him, when he expires, into an eternally-sustained backbeat riff," which sounds like a pretty good way to go out.

The Tipitina's homepage has all kinds of goodies: video footage from FessJazztival 2002 (Taj Mahal!), interviews and articles (here's one on Cyril Neville), and the FessCam--live streaming video of shows and 24-hour radio.
posted by hippugeek at 1:36 AM on December 20, 2002

I've always been partial to Live on the Queen Mary (which unfortunately seems to be out of print), maybe because it was my introduction to 'Fess.

Great post, madamjujujive.
posted by timeistight at 2:21 AM on December 20, 2002

Hippugeek, my turn to swoon....thanks for pointing out all these resources that I just never dug into. I love Taj, just saw him at House of Blues here in Cambridge - what stage charisma he has! This morning, I have been listening to the clips you pointed to at Tipitinas - great heaping doses in 15 to 17 minute segments - nice way to start the day! Plus Cyrill Neville interview! Plus streaming radio - can't wait to dig in. I have been at a loss since y2karl's site has been down...and speaking of y2karl, many thanks for the pointer to Proper - I need some of those cds right this minute, I tell you!

Wow, all this wonderful information is one of the reasons I love mefi, yippee! And indeed, Professor Longhair was one of the first indications I had about the power of this interweb thingie...I posted a question about him on a message board and magically got several replies...I had been a lonely little yankee fess fan knowing no others who shared my penchant - suddenly I was inundated with info! So in a curious way, Fess was responsible for jump-starting my insatiable proclivity for surfing.

timeistight, you have the best user page - Zoe is beautiful - congratulations! She will have to hang out with Dejah470's new little urchin, Thomas - the next generation of mefi!
posted by madamjujujive at 5:11 AM on December 20, 2002

Professor Longhair was indeed fantastic. I recommend Rhino's 'Fess - The Professor Longhair Anthology for anyone looking to get started.

Can't wait to get New Orleans next week!
posted by Kafkaesque at 8:51 AM on December 20, 2002

I second y2karl's rave for Proper Records; I've come at them from the jazz end (anyone who's been wanting some Duke Ellington should grab their set, which has got to be one of the great bargains in music, the best cuts up through WWII on four disks for $20 -- I got it even though I had more than half the stuff already -- and the Woody Herman set is the only decent available collection of the First and Second Herds) and now I'm dying to get the sets he mentioned. Thanks to all for great links and a great thread -- and happy birthday, madam!
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on December 20, 2002


Get TO New Orleans.

I don't get the whole thing. Just the beignets and booze.
posted by Kafkaesque at 8:54 AM on December 20, 2002

Plus the biggest cockroaches in the universe... and they fly, too. Lift a broom and watch the avalanche. Turn on the bathroom light to see one eating the toothpaste out of your toothbrush. Walk out on the back porch and see the seething mound on what used to be the dog's bowl. Eeeee...

But, on the other hand, the best food on average in the whole country, where a greasy spoon serves up better fare than a high end cafe up north. The restrooms, on the other hand...
posted by y2karl at 1:42 PM on December 20, 2002

Here's another second for Proper Records; I love the "Essential Masters of Jazz" series. Single-CD introductions to the best periods in the careers of Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. Plus, for some reason they're super cheap in the States, even as imports (I found them for ~$8 each in a local chain).
posted by mediareport at 2:28 PM on December 20, 2002

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