|Professor Longhair 1974 (Photo by Barry Kaiser)|
I decided when I got back home that I wanted to hear what all the fuss was about, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I went to my local record store a couple of weekends 'later and I saw a couple of Professor Longhair options. I decided to grab a cassette copy of Rock ‘N’ Roll Gumbo.....no particular reason why, that’s just the one I picked.
|Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown|
Rock 'N' Roll Gumbo features a lot of songs that Fess had previously recorded, including several mentioned above. This version of "Mardi Gras In New Orleans" is amazing and if it doesn't make you move, you need to check into the hospital. I have several favorites among the fourteen tracks. "Doin' It" is an inspired, fast-paced instrumental and speaking of such, you should really check out his stunning, breakneck version of "Mess Around" near the end of the album.....another favorite.
"Junco Partner" is another favorite.....a funky rhumba boogie, along with a terrific version of "Tipitina," and some supremely solid blues tunes like "Mean Old World" and "Stagger Lee." When i hear "How Long Has That Train Been Gone," I can picture my daughters, then about six and two, dancing crazily to Fess' rhythm. The cherry on top is a riproaring version of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)" that features fiddle from Brown.
Speaking of Brown, his playing is first-rate throughout. He compliments Fess' amazing piano perfectly. Both artists are really inspired by the other and while each set an impossibly high standard for their instrumental work over the years, they are both near their peak with this session.
Now......think about these two items for a moment. First, this session was not released at the time of recording in the United States. It was issued overseas in Europe, but few copies reached the states. In the mid 80's, the master tapes were found and it was released. Sadly, Professor Longhair had passed away in early 1980, but fans in the states had a fit when the album finally hit domestic shores.
Now, item #2.....just three or four days before recording started on the album in 1974, Professor Longhair's house burned to the ground! He had no fire insurance and basically lost everything that he had! Although that had to be weighing heavy on his mind at the time, any sadness he had seemed to virtually disappear when he got behind the keys. The music is just so full of joy and exuberance....he was just so good, whether playing blues, rhumbas, and even calypso. This is such a great album.
Professor Longhair recorded a number of excellent albums over the years......New Orleans Piano (a collection of his Atlantic recordings from the 40's and the 50's), House Party New Orleans Style and Mardi Gras in Baton Rouge (two sets recorded in Baton Rouge during the early 70's with Snooks Eaglin on guitar), Fess: The Professor Longhair Anthology (an amazing overview from Rhino Records), and his swan song for Alligator Records, Crawfish Fiesta (released around the time of his death). However, my go-to album when I want to hear Fess is Rock 'N' Roll Gumbo, which captures two excellent musicians at their very best. If you dig New Orleans piano, or just good music in general, check this disc out at your first opportunity!