By the mid-1970’s Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd aka Professor Longhair was in the midst of a career resurgence. Well, maybe resurgence isn’t the best word for a musician who, despite being a piano legend in his hometown of New Orleans, had spent his life evading or simply missing any chance at success. Nonetheless, by the year of 1976 “Fess” as he was affectionately known by his friends and fans, was enjoying a nice run of gigs around the U.S. and Europe. Those who were hip to the piano player’s classic R&B recordings of songs like “Tipitina”, “Go To The Mardi Gras”, “Bald Head”, “Hey Little Girl”, and “Walk Your Blues Away” were elated at the chance to catch this mysterious, larger-than-life performer who had seemingly been hiding out for years in the bar rooms of New Orleans.
In 1976, just a couple months after his 57th birthday, Fess found himself onstage at the Chicago Folk Festival. He had yet to record what would be considered his first U.S. LP, Crawfish Fiesta, which was recorded in 1979 and would be released posthumously after his death at the age of 61 in 1980. Though the appearance in the Windy City on February 1, 1976 was originally broadcast by WFMT-FM Chicago, it had remained unreleased and in the hands of Fess’ lead guitarist Billy Gregory for 25 years before he gave it to New Orleans native, musician, and founder of Orleans Records Carlo Ditta.
On April 12 Orleans Records will release Live at the University of Chicago Folk Festival – February 1, 1976, and today we are truly honored to present an exclusive sneak peek stream of the album right here on Glide Magazine.
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 a set that features some of his best known tunes. Besides the Professor himself, who handles the keys, vocals and whistling, you will also hear the prodigious talent of Billy Gregory on lead guitar, Will Harvey on rhythm guitar, Julius Farmer on bass, and Earl Gordon on drums.
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.”
Make yourself a cocktail and listen to this treasure of a live recording of Professor Longhair:
Live at the University of Chicago Folk Festival – February 1, 1976
1. “Intro” (0:19)
2. “Doin’ It” (4:54) written by Roland Byrd
3. “Big Chief” (3:49) written by Earl King
4. “Every Day I Have The Blues” (4:48) written by Peter Chatman
1. “Mess Around” (4:52) written by Ahmet Ertegun
2.”Mardi Gras In New Orleans” (3:01) written by Roland Byrd
3. “Got My Mojo Working” (4:36) written by Preston Foster
4. “FeSS’s Boogie” (2:49) written by Roland Byrd