THE PRIMO COLLECTION (2CD)
Looka No Hair, No Buts No Maybes, Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand, Cry Pretty Baby, Look What You're Doing To Me, Misery, Tipitina, Ball The Wall, Who's Been Fooling You, In The Night, Gone So Long, Curley Haired Baby, Rockin' With Fess, KC Blues, Boyd's Bounce, East St Louis Blues, Been Foolin' Around, Between Midnight And Day, Longhair Stomp, Hadacol Bounce, Byrd's Blues, Her Mind Is Gone, Bald Head, Hey Now Baby, Oh Well, Mardi Gras In New Orleans, She Walks Right In, Hey Little Girl, Willie Mae, Professor Longhair Blues, Walk Your Blues Away, Boogie Woogie, Longhair's Blues Rhumba, She Ain't Got No Hair, Bye Bye Baby.
When Little Feat's Lowell George sang "Two degrees in be-bop, a PHD in swing, he's a master of rhythm, he's a rock'n'roll king", I'm sure he was thinking about Henry Roeland Byrd better known as Professor Longhair whose unorthodox piano style was a gumbo stew of jazz, blues, boogie, Caribbean licks and glorious second line rhythms that have saturated New Orleans music from Kid Stormy Weather to The Meters.
It is 28 years since he died and high time we celebrated him and his fabulous music. He was an innovator and a stylist who inspired countless musicians. Dr John calls him the father of funk and Allen Toussaint refers to him as "the bach of rock". His piano style confounded and confused Art Tatum, Thelonius Monk thought him "sensational" and Jerry Wexler considered him "a seminal force, a guru, an original". Fats Domino, James Booker, Huey Smith, The Meters, Chris Barber, Jools Holland, Jon Cleary and anyone who's ever leaned over a piano keyboard and dreamt of New Orleans certainly wouldn't argue with any of the above.
Back in the 70s the Holy Grail for Longhair collectors was the Atlantic stuff he made in 1949 and 1953 with Red Tyler, Earl Palmer, Robert Parker and Edgar Blanchard. Well, it's all here alongside a bunch of tracks recorded in the 50s for Ebb, Federal, Mercury and Talent by the bands he christened The Blues Scholars or The Shuffling Hungarians.
There are 35 tracks on this double set ranging from the doo-wop-ish "Cry Pretty Baby" and the brash boogie woogie "Ball The Wall" to the feral finger-buster "In The Night" and the slow rolling blues blaster "Gone So Long". Then there are the circulating percolating rhythms of "Curly Haired Baby", the bouncing energy of "Bald Head" and the swaggering R&B hepness of "Oh Well". No Professor Longhair anthology would be complete without the masterpiece, "Tipitina" - the glorious big fat rollickin' mess of boppin' blues and rumboogie that drives other piano players green with envy because they'll never be able to play it like him. They might try but they'll never do it!
If you've never owned a Longhair album, now's the time to put things right.
Review Date: March 2009