Listen: Mess Around / Professor Longhair
‘Fess, as he was known to friends and fellow musicians, waited thirty years after releasing his first single before making a lone trip to the UK. The master of “rhumba-rhythmed piano blues and choked singing”, to quote journalist Tony Russell, was promoting his PROFESSOR LONGHAIR LIVE ON THE QUEEN MARY album and ‘Mess Around’ single. Recorded on board said ship during a party thrown by Paul and Linda McCartney, the album is an oasis worth searching out.
Through time, his invention of what became known as the New Orleans Mardi Gras sound has been revered by everyone from Fats Domino and Huey Piano Smith to Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. Despite a most productive period on Atlantic Records in the 50′s, he never had mainstream success, instead spiraling downward during the 60′s and 70′s, landing work as a janitor saddled with a gambling addiction. Only during the last years of his life did he begin to see royalties of any kind. And so with little fanfare, bless Paul and Linda for coming to his aid, helping secure a deal with Harvest, and giving him a deserved, overdue break.
Your initial listen through ‘Mess Around’ will simultaneously reveal everything about his distinctive, one of a kind style, apparently the result of learning to play on a piano missing several crucial keys.
Many times when legendary players, years on, try to recapture their spark via a current, contemporary album, the magic sounds tired or lost altogether. Not the case here. Not in the slightest.