|Birth name||Henry Roeland Byrd|
|Also known as||Fess|
December 19, 1918|
|Origin||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Died||January 30, 1980 (aged 61)
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Genres||New Orleans blues, New Orleans R&B, Louisiana blues|
Henry Roeland "Roy" Byrd (December 19, 1918 – January 30, 1980), better known as Professor Longhair, was a New Orleans blues singer and pianist. Professor Longhair is noteworthy for having been active in two distinct periods, both in the heyday of early rhythm and blues, and in the resurgence of interest in traditional jazz after the founding of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The journalist Tony Russell, in his book The Blues – From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, stated "The vivacious rhumba-rhythmed piano blues and choked singing typical of Fess were too weird to sell millions of records; he had to be content with siring musical offspring who were simple enough to manage that, like Fats Domino or Huey "Piano" Smith. But he is also acknowledged as a father figure by subtler players like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John."
Professor Longhair was born on December 19, 1918 in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He made a living as a street hustler until he started to play piano seriously in his thirties. He taught himself how to play on a piano with missing keys so his style became distinct.
He began his career in New Orleans in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club, where the owner, Mike Tessitore, bestowed Longhair with his stage name (due to Byrd's shaggy coiffure). Longhair first recorded in 1949, creating four songs (including the first version of his signature song, "Mardi Gras in New Orleans," complete with whistled intro) for the Dallas, Texas based Star Talent label. His band was called the Shuffling Hungarians, for reasons lost to time. Union problems curtailed their release, but Longhair's next effort for Mercury Records the same year was a winner. Throughout the 1950s, he recorded for Atlantic Records, Federal Records and other, local, labels. Professor Longhair had only one national commercial hit, "Bald Head" in 1950, credited to Roy Byrd & His Blues Jumpers. He also recorded his pet numbers "Tipitina" and "Go to the Mardi Gras". However, he lacked the early crossover appeal of Fats Domino for white audiences.
After recuperating from a minor stroke, Professor Longhair came back in 1957 with "No Buts - No Maybes." He revived his "Go to the Mardi Gras" in 1959; this is the version that surfaces every year at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
He appeared at the 1971 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to restore his standing, and played at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival. His recorded live set, Live on the Queen Mary (1978) came from a party given by Paul and Linda McCartney. His single visit to the UK, in 1978, was commemorated by The London Concert.
By the 1980s his albums, such as Crawfish Fiesta on Alligator and New Orleans Piano for Atlantic, had become readily available across America. He appeared on the PBS series Soundstage (with Dr. John, Earl King, and The Meters) and co-starred in the film documentary Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together. The latter became a memorial tribute when Longhair died in his sleep from a heart attack in the middle of filming. Footage from his funeral was included.
In 1981 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He was awarded a posthumous Grammy for his early recordings released as House Party New Orleans Style, and in 1992 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Fess's song "Tipitina" is covered by Hugh Laurie on the 2011-CD album "Let Them Talk". Laurie is a long-time fan, having used Fess's "Go to the Mardi Gras" as the theme for the pilot episode of A Bit of Fry & Laurie.
In the 1940s Professor Longhair was playing with Caribbean musicians, listening a lot to Perez Prado's mambo records, and absorbing and experimenting with it all. He was especially enamored with Cuban music. Longhair's style was known locally as rumba-boogie. Alexander Stewart states that Longhair was a key figure bridging the worlds of boogiewoogie and the new style of rhythm and blues." In his composition "Misery," Professor Longhair plays a habanera-like figure in his left hand. The deft use of triplets in the right hand is a characteristic of Longhair's style.
Tresillo, the habanera, and related African-based single-celled figures have long been heard in the left hand part of piano compositions by New Orleans musicians, for example—Louis Moreau Gottschalk ("Souvenirs From Havana" 1859), and Jelly Roll Morton ("The Crave" 1910). One of Longhair's great contributions was the adaptation of Afro-Cuban two-celled, clave-based patterns in New Orleans blues. Michael Campbell states: "Rhythm and blues influenced by Afro-Cuban music first surfaced in New Orleans. Professor Longhair’s influence was . . . far reaching. In several of his early recordings, Professor Longhair blended Afro-Cuban rhythms with rhythm and blues. The most explicit is 'Longhair’s Blues Rhumba,' where he overlays a straightforward blues with a clave rhythm." The guajeo-like piano part for the rumba-boogie "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" (1949), employs the 2-3 clave onbeat/offbeat motif. The 2-3 clave time-line is written above the piano excerpt for reference.
According to Dr. John (Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, Jr.), the Professor "put funk into music . . . Longhair's thing had a direct bearing I'd say on a large portion of the funk music that evolved in New Orleans." This is the syncopated, but straight subdivision feel of Cuban music (as opposed to swung subdivisions). Alexander Stewart states that the popular feel was passed along from "New Orleans—through James Brown's music, to the popular music of the 1970s," adding: "The singular style of rhythm & blues that emerged from New Orleans in the years after World War II played an important role in the development of funk. In a related development, the underlying rhythms of American popular music underwent a basic, yet generally unacknowledged transition from triplet or shuffle feel to even or straight eighth notes. Concerning funk motifs, Stewart states: "This model, it should be noted, is different from a time line (such as clave and tresillo) in that it is not an exact pattern, but more of a loose organizing principle."
- Rock 'N' Roll Gumbo (1974)
- Live on the Queen Mary (1978)
- Crawfish Fiesta (1980)
- The London Concert with Alfred "Uganda" Roberts (1981) aka The (Complete) London Concert
- The Last Mardi Gras (1982)
- Mardi Gras In New Orleans - Live 1975 Recording (1982) aka Live In Germany
- House Party New Orleans Style: The Lost Sessions 1971-1972 (1987)
- Ball the Wall! Live at Tipitina's 1978 (2004)
- New Orleans Piano (1972) aka New Orleans Piano: Blues Originals Vol. 2
- Mardi Gras In New Orleans 1949-1957 (1981)
- Mardi Gras in Baton Rouge (1991)
- Fess: The Professor Longhair Anthology (1993)
- Fess' Gumbo (1996)
- Collector's Choice (1996) Half an album of hits
- Way Down Yonder In New Orleans (1997)
- The Chronological Professor Longhair 1949 (2001)
- Tipitina - The Complete 1949-1957 New Orleans Recordings (2008)
- The Primo Collection (2009)
- Dr. John's New Orleans Swamp (1974)
- Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together (1982) – award-winning 76-minute documentary film featuring Professor Longhair, Tuts Washington, and Allen Toussaint
Black or white, local or out-of-town, they all had Longhair's music in common. Just that mambo-rhumba boogie thing.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues — From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 157. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- "Introduction". www.history-of-rock.com. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
- "Biography by Bill Dahl". Allmusic.com. Retrieved May 28, 2009.
- Oliver (ed.), Paul (1989). The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Blues. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publisher. pp. 280–281. ISBN 0-631-18301-9.
- Allaboutjazz.com - accessed May 2009
- Palmer, Robert (1979: 14). A Tale of Two Cities: Memphis Rock and New Orleans Roll. Brooklyn.
- Stewart, Alexander (2000: 298). "Funky Drummer: New Orleans, James Brown and the Rhythmic Transformation of American Popular Music." Popular Music, v. 19, n. 3. Oct., 2000, p. 293-318.
- Stewart (2000: 297).
- Campbell, Michael, and James Brody (2007: 83). Rock and Roll: An Introduction. Schirmer. ISBN 0534642950
- Kevin Moore: "There are two common ways that the three-side [of clave] is expressed in Cuban popular music. The first to come into regular use, which David Peñalosa calls 'clave motif,' is based on the decorated version of the three-side of the clave rhythm. By the 1940s [there was] a trend toward the use of what Peñalosa calls the 'offbeat/onbeat motif.' Today, the offbeat/onbeat motif method is much more common." Moore (2011). Understanding Clave and Clave Changes p. 32. Santa Cruz, CA: Moore Music/Timba.com. ISBN‐10: 1466462302
- Dr. John quoted by Stewart (2000: 297).
- Stewart (2000: 293).
- Stewart (2000: 306).
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 161. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Professor Longhair At Myspace
- Henry Roeland Byrd at Find-A-Grave