Professor Longhair – Live In Chicago


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Release Year: 2016

Label: Orleans Records

Track List

  1. Intro
  2. Doin’ It
  3. Big Chief
  4. Everyday I Have The Blues
  5. Mess Around
  6. Mardi Gras In New Orleans
  7. Got My Mojo Working
  8. Fess’s Boogie


  • Professor Longhair – Piano, Vocals and Whistling
  • Bill Gregory – Lead Guitar
  • Will Harvey – Rhythm Guitar
  • Julius Farmer – Bass Guitar
  • Earl Gordon – Drums


Professor Longhair – Live at the University of Chicago
Folk Festival – February 1, 1976

Professor Longhair emerged as a force in the New Orleans musical
community with his initial recordings for the Star Talent label out of
Houston and his series of 78s for Mercury, Atlantic and Federal Records
issued between 1949 and 1953.

He first drew attention from the record-buying public with sides like
“Bald Head,” “Hey Little Girl,” “Walk Your Blues Away,” and his anthem
“Mardi Gras In New Orleans,” which was a modest success in the Crescent
City but gained more listeners when it was cut by Fats Domino for
Imperial Records in 1952.

His early recording sessions were hit-and-miss affairs, often cutting
the same handful of numbers (“Bald Head,” “Mardi Gras In New Orleans”)
for different labels under different names, until Atlantic Records made
a second attempt at establishing Fess as a poplar rhythm & blues artist
with a 1953 session backed by the J&M Studio recording band with Lee
Allen, Red Tyler, Edgar Blanchard and Earl Palmer.

“Tipitina” (backed with “In The Night”) from this session produced by
Ahmet Ertegun & Jerry Wexler became one of his most enduring classics
but the record had little impact on the contemporary record
marketplace. In fact, it was hard to build a promotional case for the
pianist who was billed variously on his Atlantic 78 releases as Roland
Byrd, Roy (“Bald Head”) Byrd, and finally Professor Longhair & His
Blues Scholars.

Now given his ultimate professional identity, Fess failed to make any
headway in the record business and, after cutting “Bald Head” once more
(as “Looka No Hair”) for Ebb Records in 1957 and making the definitive
version of “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” (as “Go To The Mardi Gras”) for
Ron Records in 1959, Fess emerged from obscurity to make one final
splash on 45 rpm with Watch Records in 1964, first with yet another
version of “Bald Head” and then with his brilliant collaboration with
Earl King called “Big Chief.”

But still nothing happened commercially and Fess faded from the scene,
occasionally spotted sweeping the floors at Joe Assunto’s One Stop
record shop but rarely performing in public during the remainder of the

In 1969 Hudson Marquez’ long search for Longhair finally ended when he
found him dealing cards in a bar room and babysitting his grandchildren
down the street. Right there in Central City. He was living in poverty.
He was ill. Marquez got him on the road to performing again. A new
electric piano and rehearsing at the union hall lifted his spirits and
he was ready to play. He started out in some small bars in the Ninth
Ward. His big break saw him playing at the 1971 NO Jazzfest in Congo
Square where he knocked the audience right out. Marquez was there to
document the set” Everybody was stunned. Even Dizzy Gillespie and Rosie
Sykes.” Soon he was playing and recording all over the world.

Fess’s dramatic re-emergence on stage was augmented by the release of
an Atlantic Records compilation of his obscure sides from 1949-53
called New Orleans Piano which drew rave reviews and introduced his
name and his music to modern audiences.

Fess made a series of recordings with Snooks Eaglin in 1971-72 under
the direction of Quint Davis and Parker Dinkins, eventually issued 20
years later by Rounder Records as House Party New Orleans Style, but
there was no interest in a contemporary release. In 1974 He backed up
Gatemouth Brown on an album produced by Philippe Rault called Rock &
Roll Gumbo, but it was released by Barclay Records in France with no
U.S. edition.

Nothing was happening with his recording career, but Fess was able to
play around New Orleans and tour the U.S. and Europe to considerable
acclaim from the roots music community, drawing enthusiastic responses
from the hipper nightclub and festival audiences around the country and
wowing people in England and Europe.

During the 1970s Fess worked with Snooks Eaglin, Will Harvey on bass,
and ”Sheeba” Kimbraugh on drums. In the mid-70s he replaced Snooks with
New Orleans guitarist Billy Gregory for a spell before assembling his
contemporary band of Blues Scholars with David Lee Watson on bass,
Johnny Vidacovich on drums, Alfred “Uganda” Roberts on congas, and Tony
Dagradi and Andy Kaslow on saxophones.

Fess finally made his first full U.S. album in November of 1979 when
Bruce Iglauer took him into the studio with Dr. John on guitar and the
Blues Scholars to make the album called Crawfish Fiesta. But Fess
passed away on January 30, 1980, two days before the album was released
on Alligator Records.

The recording under hand is the result of Longhair’s appearance at the
Chicago Folk Festival in early 1976 that was recorded by a local radio
station and mixed under the supervision of Billy Gregory, who kept his
copy of the tape for about 25 years before presenting it to Carlo Ditta
at Orleans Records for a listen. 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-70s edition
of Fess’s band with Billy Gregory featured prominently on guitar.

“I’ve been knowing Billy Gregory since I was 14,” Carlo Ditta
testifies. “We’d all look up to Billy. He was in this rock-blues band,
Nectar, and they opened for the Jefferson Airplane here in New Orleans,
and then they went back to San Francisco with them.

“When the San Francisco band It’s A Beautiful Day came here for the
Celebration of Life festival in 1970, they picked up on Billy. They got
rid of their guitar player and they took Billy back to San Francisco,
and he was the only guy that we knew who made it to the big rock show.

”Billy did three or four years with It’s A Beautiful Day, and he made
these albums. We followed him, and all the guitar players from
Chalmette to the West Bank knew Billy Gregory. He was a guitar-slinging
hippie, and then he left the band and came back from San Francisco to
New Orleans.

“We didn’t know much about black artists then. We knew Aaron Neville
and Art Neville because they would play at the Ivanhoe on Bourbon
Street sometimes. We didn’t know about the Meters yet. But the big
crossover to the white kids was Fess. Billy Gregory became his guitar
player when he came back in 1974. That’s kinda why we would go to the
501 Club to see Fess, because Billy was in the band, and that’s how we
got introduced to Fess.”

Billy Gregory began to play the guitar at 9 years old, and by the age
of 14 Billy was already playing gigs on Bourbon St. In the 60’s and 70s
he did recording sessions for Universal, Fame and Stax Records and
toured with Professor Longhair, Johnny Adams, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey,
Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Charlie Musselwhite, Mighty Sam McClain
and The Neville Bros. Billy lived in Italy for a few years where he and
harmonica player Andy J. Forest toured Europe playing the blues. Since
his return to New Orleans Billy’s been thriving on the Bourbon Street
club scene, holding down regular slots with several working bands and
often featuring on his own and with diverse ensembles around the area.

“So Billy had these tapes from the Chicago Folk Festival,” Carlo Ditta
winds up, “and every time it was a solo, Fess would holler out to
Billy, and Billy would bust out with these rock star solos. The radio
station in Chicago recorded the show but they didn’t know how to mix
it, so Billy mixed it for them and they gave him a copy of the tape.
”Now it’s in your hands, fellow music lovers, and you’ve got some more
top-notch “live” Professor Longhair to enjoy at your leisure. Enjoy!
– John Sinclair.,
July 27, 2014

Additional information

Weight 5.5 oz
Dimensions 5.0 × 5.5 × .5 in

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