Professor Longhair, The London Concert

Tristram Lozaw

By Tristram Lozaw

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The pride of Bougalousa, LA, Henry Roeland Byrd was the granddaddy of New Orleans-style piano blues and swamp-boat R&B. Unconventional in both his singing and playing, Byrd, nicknamed Professor Longhair for his unshorn locks, set the piano-blues world on its ear in the '50s and early '60s with songs like "Big Chief," "Go to the Mardi Gras" and "Tipitina," which inspired the name of one of the Crescent City's most famous music clubs. (By the end of the '60s, though, he was sweeping floors in New Orleans, then was rediscovered at an early edition of the city's famed Jazzfest in 1971.) A mix of breezy Caribbean rumba-funk with Dixieland and stride piano styles, these signature tracks are among the standouts of the London Concert, recorded by Longhair and conga player Alfred Roberts less than two years before the former's death in 1980. Showcasing a player at the top of his game, this boogie-down live set features strong versions of other Longhair-penned tracks, which were the churning models for the New Orleans gumbo-funk of the Meters, Neville Brothers and others &#8212 and are now Mardi Gras standards.