Professor Longhair -
b/w There Is Something On Your Mind
When speaking on New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, one of the first names to be mentioned will inevitably be Professor Longhair. While Fats Domino had the most fruitful career to come out of the Crescent City, Longhair (or Fess, as he was called) undoubtedly had the most respect. To this day, every New Orleans musician I've ever heard or read, credits Fess as the backbone of the cities distinct musical sound. Fess (for whom my son is named after) began recording in the late 40's under his given name, Henry Roeland Byrd. His biggest hit was his first release, "She ain't got no hair", which is the original version of "Bald Head", as heard here. Throughout his career, he managed to record several prolific sides for the Mercury, Federal, Atlantic, Ebb, and Ron labels. This single was the last that Longhair would ever release, as his 3rd for the Watch label (the 1st being the titanic "Big Chief" and the second being "Third house from the corner"). On the other two Watch sides, the vocals were done by Earl King, with Fess on piano. With Fess returning to his awkward vocal style, he updates and personalizes not only his first hit, but "There is something on your mind", another New Orleans standard made popular by Bobby Marchan, of Huey Smith & The Clowns fame.
Clarence "Frogman" Henry's claim to fame was his big hit, "I ain't got a home", where he mimics a frog and a girl for two of the three versus. Oddly enough, the songs success put him in the big leagues, where he was able to perform with Ike & Tina, James Brown, and even tour as the opening act for the Beatles for a small stint. This 45 was released 1 year later, as a follow up to the big hit. The B side, in fact, is the response, entitled "I found a home". "Frogman" started out his musical career emulating the styles of Fats and Professor Longhair. He was even said to have dressed up like Fess for a school talent show. All of the early pioneers in New Orleans music can be heard in these two songs, along side a decent dose of the up and coming rock and roll sound, a combination that many New Orleans musicians to come would embrace and try to duplicate.
Earl King -
Those Lonely, Lonely Feelings
b/w You Can Fly High
Earl Johnson, AKA Earl King, was a power player in the New Orleans R&B scene for most of his life. He began early, playing guitar and duplicating the sound of his idol, Guitar Slim. He then had the opportunity to BE Slim, when Slim was injured and he sat in, posing as the Guitar great. King went on to record several sides for Savoy and Specialty, but when he landed at Ace, he stayed for 5 years and recorded/composed some of the more amazing sides the label has ever released. This record marks the beginning of his Ace career. "Those lonely, lonely feelings" put King on the map, peaking at #7 on the R&B charts. After his Ace deal, King went on to write and perform many hits, including "Trick Bag", "Come On", and the Mardi Gras staple, "Big Chief."
Dejan's Olympia Brass Band -
b/w Tuba Fats and Drums
b/w Tuba Fats and Drums
The Olympia Brass Band, led by Harold "Duke" Dejan, has a history longer than any band I've ever heard of. The band dates back to 1883 and while the sound and influences of the times have caused the band to morph their music (as well as their name), the traditions and focus always stayed the same. Olympia single handedly paved the way for all the modern-day Brass Bands of New Orleans, including Dirty Dozen, Rebirth, Hot 8, and the Soul Rebels (who used to be known as the Young Olympia, a youth program of sorts, overlooked by Dejan). Dejan's band was the first tradional styled jazz band to emcompass the rising R&B sounds which rang through the city. Of course, even the covers, such as this version of Ray Charles' "I got a woman" (called here, "Gotta' Woman"), are as close to the originals as they are to the Dixieland roots of the Brass Band. The sound falls somehere offet, in the middle where, if you take a step back, you can see that the most influential and progressive music in New Orleans' history tends to be. A fusion (or gumbo, if you will) of all the key factors in society and culture. As many close friends know, i have been fascinated with the history of the Brass Band in New Orleans and continue to do research for their music and stories. I am sure that i will be sharing more of my finds with you in the future.