BY JASON GROSS
My girlfriend has a theory that even the worst people have some bit of good in them and this album might be proof of that. Albert Goldman made a career late in his life as being a scummy hatchet man, penning well-selling, sub-tabloids bios of dead rock stars (Lennon, Elvis) but one positive thing he did with his otherwise disgraceful life was to produce this 1978 live album (originally coming out in 1982) from this New Orleans legend.
Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair (a great moniker for sure) started his career around the 1950’s, cutting R&B sides for small labels, which featured his rollicking piano and wonderfully scatter shot voice.
In the seventies he experienced a revival as an elder statesman, feted by no less than Paul McCartney for a special concert on the Queen Mary (which later came out as a live album) and recording the classic <Crawfish Fiesta> with Dr. John, which came out shortly after Byrd passed away in 1980 at age 61. (Also worth seeking out is the documentary that he starred in with Allen Toussaint, <Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together>).
During the eighties a raft of nice archival albums of studio and live material came out, including the original version of this particular album, which Atlantic Records issued as a double record. In the liners, Goldman crows about how much trouble and care he put into making sure Longhair got everything that he needed for this date, done at Tipitina’s, the club named in honor of a Longhair song and also done on the occasion of the famous NOLA celebration (hence the album title). Along with a pair of saxophone players to provide the bouncy, buoyant atmosphere and Byrd’s trusty conga player Alfred “Uganda” Roberts providing the bottom, Longhair rolls out several of his classics in a great, playful mood- the Big Easy standard “Big Chief,” Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” (where you can hear the Prof yelling ‘blow, blow, blow!’ at the sax player there), the Prof’s own hilarious originals “Bald Head” (one of his original 50’s singles) and “Her Mind Is Gone” plus R&B classics like “Cry To Me,” “Mess Around” (a virtual master class in barrel-house playing) and “Stagger Lee.” The Prof is masterful and commanding on piano, letting his fingers fly at fast speeds, and his strained, roving voice is delightful, matched by his sweet, easygoing whistling that sometimes accompanies it.
Grab up <Crawfish Fiesta> pronto to hear a music legend, not to mention a Hall of Fame inductee. But not long after that, do yourself a favor a scarf up this live album after that.
DOWNLOAD: “Bald Head,” “Cry To Me,” “Boogie Woogie”