Professor Longhair and the New Orleans Blues
As we wrap up the month of September the first month of our “blues” theme, I’d like to write a little homage to New Orleans and the colorful blues scene from Professor Longhair, one of the most highly regarded blues musicians from Nola, to present-day favorites like local band Stoop Kids, which can be described as an eclectic mix lightly influenced by the genre.
Our style of blues is unique to our wonderfully abnormal city – with influences of Caribbean and (of course) jazz, our city has produced some of the biggest names in one of the hugest genres in music. We got mostly sax and piano, heavily reliant on vocals, and most blues songs from the area have a generally “cheery” tone – despite subject matter.
Image courtesy of Louisiana Music Factory
Professor Longhair has long been considered a staple in not only the blues genre, but New Orleans music as a whole. His most well-known song, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans”, was recorded as far back as 1949. Professor Longhair relied predominately on piano and vocals, and his instrumentals can be seen to influence such staples as the Rebirth Brass Band.
In fact, Professor Longhair has had such a heavy influence on the city, that widely popular music venue Tipitina’s is dedicated to him. On January 14, 1977, a group of music visionaries known as “the Fabulous Fo’teen” created a club in his name for one of his most revered titular recordings, “Tipitina”. Their goal was to create a quality venue in which Longhair could preform during his later years. The artist died in 1980, and was able to perform at the club for a 3 year period.
A photo of Longhair stands over the stage at Tipitina’s. Photo courtesy of Tipitinas.com
Another music venue, Neutral Ground Coffeehouse, has been known to garner many local legends over the years. I was lucky enough to visit this year to interview an up and coming bassist who routinely performs at the club, and those who worked there had told me that the very piano I was sitting at was “played to death by Toussaint”, a.k.a, the late and great Allen Toussaint. “He would just come in here and play, just hang out”, one of the patrons had told me.
The outside of Neutral Ground looks nothing like your average club. Photo courtesy of WWOZ.org – Briana Prevost
Just like Tipitina’s, Neutral Ground was designed by musicians, for musicians. Carrying on the tradition, artists and groups today like Stoop Kids routinely perform at Tipitina’s, young musicians flock to Neutral Ground and play ‘gigs’ to either pick up some extra cash, or simply put their name out in the fore front. “Since this is where the musicians hang out”, one patron at Neutral Ground said, “it’s also where the young musicians want to be.”
So whether it be blues, soul, zydeco, brass, R&B, or whatever, New Orleans truly is a vibrant music epicenter. Dating back pre-Longhair and the 1940s, all the way to the present day, our city will never run dry of apt and visionary artists.