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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mardi Gras NO style, 30 Sep 2013
This review is from: Mardi Gras In New Orleans: Complete Recordings 1949-1962 (Audio CD)
In the pantheon of great - recorded - New Orleans piano players, Professor Longhair (b. Henry Roeland Byrd, 1918) was the most influential. To this day, his name is spoken with reverence and his "Go To The Mardi Gras" (Ron) is the definitive record played during the annual festival. This compilation, the most comprehensive to date, offers his complete recordings (including those unissued at the time) from 1949/62.

So what was so unusual about Fess? He had a good enough left hand, the emphasis being in the right, which carried melody and all the trills and fancy stuff, sort of rolling boogie shuffle. What put him apart was his inclusion of a degree of rhumba and mambo, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious. Mighty strange in the r&b world, unique even, or "unorthodox" as quoted by Earl King. Add to this a robust live performance, including perhaps a walk on the keyboard (!) and a propensity for kicking the hell out of the bottom front of the piano would've made for an entertaining gig. Vocally, he was hoarse'n'course and had a bit of difficulty hitting the high notes. He was a pretty good whistler too.

Over these years, he didn't record much, bouncing from label to label, Mercury, Star Talent and Atlantic covered between August and December 1949. 1951 saw him on Federal, '52 one release on Wasco, '53 back on Atlantic, long break to 1957, which saw him on Ebb, couple of years later he was on Ron, finally (for this set) Rip in '62. These last four cuts are the least interesting, but it is Fess. He was always surrounded by top session men, including the likes of Lee Allen, Walter 'Papoose' Nelson, Robert Parker, Earl Palmer and Mac 'Dr John' Rebennack, to name but a few. All sessions, bar one - Wasco, St Louis - we're held in New Orleans.

He only had one hit of note, "Bald Head" on Mercury, #5 on the r&b chart in late '49, thereafter a few regional hits, but nothing of real significance. Probably suited him, he could get on with club gigs and his first love, gambling. Apparently he favoured a game called coon-can (?). On record, he went out under various names, in order here, Roy Byrd & His Blues Jumpers, Professor Longhair & His Shuffling Hungarians (great!), Roy 'Baldhead' Byrd, Professor Longhair & His Blues Scholars, Roland Byrd, a revisit to Roy 'Baldhead' Byrd, Robert Boyd, ...& His Blues Scholars (again), finally plain ol' Professor Longhair. Continuity and making the public aware of him obviously didn't figure in his career! Which as all Fess fans know, took off in the 1970s, after being 'rediscovered' by the late Mike Leadbitter, which eventually led to European tours, several new albums and a highly receptive audience. He passed, peacefully, in January 1980, and was inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame in 1992.

If you're a fan of already distinctive enough New Orleans r&b and piano, and want something just a little off the wall, Fess is your man. It's beyond my capacity to describe his style accurately, but boy, do I like it. Notes from compiler Bob Fisher (again!) tell the story. If you need to delve further, I recommend "I Hear You Knocking: The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues" (1985) by Jeff Hannusch, a great chapter on Fess and many others on NO r&b notables. Amazon still have it, less than nine quid!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars n'Orleans RnB, 23 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Mardi Gras In New Orleans: Complete Recordings 1949-1962 (Audio CD)
Great stuff from Fess! first heard him on "the other song of the south" LP a companion album to Mercury Rockabilly. really got me into New Orleans RnB and has only left me wanting more!

this is instant collection and a good price
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Mardi Gras In New Orleans: Complete Recordings 1949-1962
Mardi Gras In New Orleans: Complete Recordings 1949-1962 by Professor Longhair (Audio CD - 2013)
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