HISTORY IN THE MUSIC
Music clubs are rarely dedicated to a single musician, and few as influential as performer, composer, and pianist Professor Longhair. Henry Roeland Byrd, (a.k.a. Professor Longhair) is one of the most revered rhythm and blues musicians in the legacy of New Orleans music. Longhair created a unique style by fusing rhumba rhythms with boogie-woogie, blues and southern R&B. Fess composed many songs which are part of the Crescent City lexicon, like “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” which serves as the soundtrack to Carnival every year. Longhair influenced his musical peers and progeny in the Crescent City since the 1950s including Dr. John, the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, and many others.
Tipitina’s began as a neighborhood juke joint, established in 1977, by a group of young music fans (The Fabulous Fo’teen) to provide a place for Professor Longhair to perform in his final years. The venue, named for one of Longhair’s most enigmatic recordings “Tipitina,” has survived in an ever-changing musical climate despite changing ownership and briefly closing in 1984.
Many of the Crescent City’s most beloved artists developed and continue to grace the stage at Tipitina’s including Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, the Meters, Cowboy Mouth, the Radiators, Galactic, Better Than Ezra, and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. Tipitina’s has been fortunate over its history to host national artists including Wilco, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz, Bonnie Raitt, James Brown, Widespread Panic, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tim McGraw, Goo Goo Dolls, Parliament Funkadelic, Robert Cray, Patti Smith, Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, Dresden Dolls, and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Many historic live recordings were made at Tipitina’s by artists including Professor Longhair, Tuts Washington, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, Anders Osborne, Kermit Ruffins, Galactic, Kim Carson, Wet Willie and Flow Tribe. As a timeless musical institution, Tipitina’s has promoted unforgettable music over its rich history and will continue to well into the future.
PROFESSOR LONGHAIR (HENRY ROELAND BYRD)
Born Dececember 19, 1918 in Bogalusa, LA
Died Jan 30, 1980 in New Orleans, LA
Pianist, composer, and singer, Professor Longhair (“Fess”) is one of the most important musical figures in New Orleans’ rich musical legacy. Born Henry Roeland Byrd in Bogalusa, he became the embodiment of New Orleans rhythm and blues at his peak in the late ’70s. Byrd grew up on the streets of the Big Easy, tap dancing for tips with his running partners. New Orleans has a long history of piano legends dating back to innovators like Jelly Roll Morton, Sullivan Rock, Kid Stormy Weather, and Tuts Washington who all left their marks on Henry Byrd. He began to take his playing seriously in 1948, earning a gig at the Caldonia Club where Mike Tessitore bestowed Byrd with his “Professor Longhair” nickname (due to his shaggy hairdo).
Debuting on Star Talent records in 1949, Fess laid down the first version of his signature “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” featuring the unmistakable whistled intro and backing band the Shuffling Hungarians. Longhair’s next date was for Mercury producing his first and only national R&B hit in 1950, “Bald Head” (under the name Roy Byrd & His Blues Jumpers). Longhair made other great recordings for various labels early in his career most notably for Atlantic Records in 1953 producing the immortal “Tipitina,” a romping “In the Night,” and the boogie “Ball the Wall”. Longhair came back on Ebb records in 1957 with the wailing “No Buts – No Maybes.” He re-recorded the seminal local anthem “Go to the Mardi Gras” for Ron records in 1959. This is the version played every year during Carnival in New Orleans, and is still one of the most beloved songs in the New Orleans music songbook.
Fess’ career was resurrected in the early 70s with the help of his then manager Allison Miner and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival founder, Quint Davis. His performance at the 1971 Jazz Festival put him on the comeback trail. He made a slew of albums in the last decade of his life, including Rock ‘n Roll Gumbo, Live on the Queen Mary (prompted by Fess fan Paul McCartney), House Party New Orleans Style, and the stellar album Crawfish Fiesta which features an all-star New Orleans lineup of Dr. John, Johnny Vidacovich, and Tony Dagradi.
On January 14, 1977, a group of music visionaries, known as the Fabulous Fo’teen, created a club in Longhair’s honor named for one of his most revered recordings, Tipitina. Their desire was to create a quality venue for Fess to perform at during his final years. The front room contained a juice bar and piano which served as a sacred place where Fess and other local pianists could play. A beautiful brass bust of Fess, by local musician and artist Coco Robicheaux, is located near the front door. Above the stage hangs a historic mural of Fess that watches over all the great artists who grace the stage of New Orleans’ most historic music venue. Fess’ spirit is always felt within the space of Tipitina’s through magical musical performances during Halloween, New Year’s Eve, Mardi Gras, “Fess Jazztival”, and all year long.
Longhair’s final day on earth was January 30, 1980, his passing marks an incredibly fertile era of music which has not been equaled since. Fess’ music is still played so often and so reverently in his hometown you would swear he never left.
Professor Longhair was inducted into the W. C. Handy Blues Hall Of Fame on November 16, 1981, and the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame on January 15, 1992.
Fess influenced countless musicians, such as Fats Domino, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Henry Butler, Huey “Piano” Smith, Marcia Ball, Champion Jack Dupree, Jon Cleary, the Meters, and the Neville Brothers. His unique style fused diverse elements including blues, barrelhouse boogie-woogie, rock, and gospel, which he combined with calypso, rhumba, and second-line street parade rhythms. His hybrid “rhumba-boogie” piano style, with a heavy, percussive left hand, forever changed the sound of rhythm and blues piano. Fess had a charismatic presence and unflinching soulful quality which pervades his recordings and performances. Few artists embodied his singular quality or have equaled the span of his influence on modern music.
New Orleans Piano (Atlantic), 1972
Rock ‘n Roll Gumbo (Dancing Cat), 1977
The Complete London Concert [live] (JSP), 1978
Live on the Queen Mary (One Way), 1978
Crawfish Fiesta (Alligator), 1980
Mardi Gras in New Orleans (Nighthawk), 1981
The Last Mardi Gras (Atlantic), 1982
House Party New Orleans Style (Rounder), 1987
Mardi Gras in Baton Rouge (Rhino), 1991
Live in Germany (New Rose), 1992
Big Chief [live] (Rhino), 1993
Fess: The Professor Longhair Anthology (Rhino), 1993
Rum & Coke [live] (Rhino), 1993
Live: Like You Like Him (Collectables), 1994
Big Easy (Blue Moon), 1995
Professor Longhair Foundation Presents Piano… [live] (Overture), 1995
Collector’s Choice (Rounder), 1996
Fess’ Gumbo (Stony Plain), 1996
Go to the Mardi Gras (Wolf), 1997
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans (M.I.L.), 1997
Big Chief (Charly), 1999
Professor Longhair’s Boogie (Catfish), 2000
1949 (Classics), 2001
Byrd’s Blues (TKO Collectors), 2001
Big Chief (Tomato), 2002