Though he had been an active presence around the Louisiana music scene for decades and was a well-known character around New Orleans, the great piano legend Professor Longhair, known to most as Fess, led a life that was as troubled as his career. When he passed away from a heart attack in 1980 at the age of 61, Fess left behind a body of work that not only influenced the likes of Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, among many others, but may quite possibly be what pops in the heads of most people when they think of “New Orleans music”, whether they know it or not. Fess was a madman on the piano and his loose, free-wheeling style of R&B perfectly captured the culture of his city. Now, over three decades after Fess passed away, songs like “Mardi Gras in New Orleans”, “Tipitina”, and “Red Beans” can still be heard at bars and restaurants across the city. If you’ve never heard any of these songs, I highly recommend changing that right now. His songs have been immortalized and have become a sort of call to arms for having a good time and cutting loose, especially during Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.
Of course, it would be impossible to discuss Professor Longhair without mentioning one of his most famous and beloved songs, “Big Chief”, of which the rollicking piano and jubilant whistling is quintessential Fess. Today we are honored to present an exclusive premiere of a previously unreleased live recording of “Big Chief” right here on Glide Magazine. The song is part of a performance Fess gave on February 1st, 1976 as part of the University of Chicago Folk Festival. The show was originally broadcast by WFMT-FM Chicago, but had remained unreleased and in the hands of his lead guitarist Billy Gregory for 25 years before he gave it to New Orleans native, musician, and founder of Orleans Records Carlo Ditta.
Onetime radio host on the venerable New Orleans radio station WWOZ John Sinclair, explains why this recording is so special: “There have been any number of official and semi-official ‘live’ Professor Longhair recordings issued since the pianist’s untimely passing in 1980, but this record offers incontrovertible evidence of the power and drive of the mid-70’s edition of Fess’s band with Billy Gregory featured prominently on guitar.”
The performance in Chicago was recorded almost exactly four years before Fess died, but it captures him and his band during an impressive period, and every member of the band is absolutely on fire throughout the set. Live In Chicago will be available on April 12th, but you can get a taste of the good stuff below.
Get out your dancing shoes and listen to this treasure of a live recording of Professor Longhair playing his classic tune “Big Chief” in 1976:
Orleans Records is releasing the recording through Select-O-Hits. Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago will be available on vinyl on April 12, and on CD on April 15.
1. Intro (0:19)
2. Doin’ It (4:54) written by Roland Byrd/Professor Longhair Music/BMI
3. Big Chief (3:49) written by Earl King/Shirley’s Music/BMI
4. Every Day I Have The Blues (4:48) written by Peter Chatman
Arc Music/Fort Knox Music/Trio Music/BMI
1. Mess Around (4:52) written by Ahmet Ertegun/ UnichappellMusic
2.Mardi Gras In New Orleans (3:01) written by Roland Byrd
Professor Longhair Music/BMI
3. Got My Mojo Working (4:36) written by Preston Foster
Arc Music/Dare Music/BMI
4. FeSS’s Boogie (2:49) written by Roland Byrd/Professor Longhair
Professor Longhair: piano, vocals & whistling
Billy Gregory: lead guitar
Will Harvey: rhythmn guitar
Julius Farmer: bass guitar
Earl Gordon: drums
By Neil Ferguson – Glide Magazine
March 1, 2016