Happy Birthday: Professor Longhair

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Monday, December 19, 2016
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Happy Birthday: Professor Longhair

On this day in 1918, the world was first graced with the presence of Henry Roeland Byrd, but fans of the boogie-woogie piano legend generally tend to know him by a more colorful sobriquet. Professor Longhair. Although his music was a little too quirky to result in any platinum-selling LPs, his work helped inspire such fellow piano-pounding legends as Dr. John, Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, and Allen Toussaint. To celebrate his birthday, we’ve put together a playlist which combines his two NEW ORLEANS PIANO albums, but we’ve also pulled together a six-pack of tracks to help expand your knowledge of the Professor’s work. Five of them are covers of his compositions, but we kick things off with something slightly outside the box.

1. Roy Byrd and his Blues Jumpers, “Bald Head” (1950): Although Professor Longhair never had a hit after he adopted his stage name, he did have one in the early years of his career, when he was performing as Roy Byrd and His Blues Jumpers. “Bald Head,” which made it to #5 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart, is a lot of fun, and if you’ve never heard it before – and it’s not like it pops up on the radio all the time, so you probably haven’t – you’ll probably get a good laugh out of it.

2. Fats Domino, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” (1953): In the early ‘50s, Professor Longhair was part of a tour with the Dave Bartholomew Orchestra featuring Fats Domino, but it failed to result in any notable rise in his profile. Domino, on the other hand, began to find a following, and for what it’s worth, he did opt to cover one of Longhair’s signature songs, one which celebrated one of America’s most famous annual parties.

3. Dr. John, “Tipitina” (1972): In November 1953, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler traveled to New Orleans to record with Professor Longhair, resulting in the release of “Tipitina” as a single. It failed to chart, but it was a regional hit, one which got belated national exposure two decades later when it was covered by Dr. John.

SPOTIFY: Listen Here

4. The Subdudes, “Big Chief” (1989): It’s not exactly a shocker to discover that a band which came into fruition at a New Orleans club called Tipitinas would go on to cover a song made famous by Professor Longhair. The song was actually composed by Earl King, but it’s become so closely associated with the Professor that it might as well have been an original.

∑ SPOTIFY: Listen here

5. John Mooney, “Hey Now Baby” (1993): Although Mooney was born in East Orange, New Jersey, he’s been based in New Orleans so long at this point that it’d be easy for you to think of him as being a native. If you like Mooney’s take on “Hey Now Baby,” you’ll love the Professor’s when you give the NEW ORLEANS PIANO playlist a spin.

6. The Hucklebucks, “She Walks Right In” (2011): This California band proudly trumpets on their website how they “have been entertaining their fans with jumpin’ blues since 1996,” noting how their CDs all have “cool original tunes and obscure, hip blues covers.” This might not be obscure to Professor Longhair fans, but it sure is hip.