Loves me some Professor Longhair, and for that matter, vintage Atlantic Records R&B. Such good sides. Highly recommended.
Walk around the streets near my home in east London and the area’s past will soon rise up to meet you – carved above door-frames, etched into glass and painted on awnings and the sides of buildings are the ghost-signs of former industries: shop-fronts and faded adverts for Blooms Pianos and Gillette Razors; fountain pens, glass, stoves and whisky; Strongs Meat and Donovan Brothers’ Paper Bags.
This was once an area famed for furniture and shoemakers, matches and model-makers, but as the industry moved elsewhere many of the names drifted into obscurity, too: Lesney, Bailey & Sloper, Bespoke Shoes, Berger, Jenson & Nicholson, Batey & Co, F Puckeridge & Nephew. As the area reinvents itself with luxury flats and new train lines, galleries and delicatessens, the few names that remain serve as faded, barely noticed reminders of the vibrant history of this part of the city.
I was thinking about these ghost signs and all those lost names this last week as I listened to Atlantic Rhythm and Blues, Volume One. This is a collection of 25 songs released between 1947 and 1952 in the first five years of the label’s existence. It ranges from relatively well-known artists – including Big Joe Turner and Ruth Brown – to obscure acts such as Stick McGhee, who pops up playing his only hit, Drinkin’ Wine (Spo-Dee-O-Dee).
(click to continue reading Hail, Hail, Rock’n’Roll | Laura Barton | Music | The Guardian.)
Likewise Professor Longhair, who appears here playing two of his biggest songs, Hey Little Girl and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Born Ray Byrd in Louisiana, Professor Longhair was a blues pianist and singer who settled in New Orleans and whose music has proved something of a linchpin of the city: a rolling, rumbling thing, with a rumba lilt, a certain Caribbeanness, and a croaky, lurching gait. You’d recognise it, surely – the dishevelled, tanked-up plea of Hey Little Girl is played often enough. Mardi Gras in New Orleans, meanwhile, has one of the most persuasive whistled intros in musical history.
This was a man who tap-danced for money along Bourbon Street, who was a card-shark and a gambler and a hustler, a one-time wannabe-boxer; a man who tried to scratch a living as a cook and a dancer and a seller of a miracle cure-all named Hadacol. You can hear it all in his music of course – a need and a desperation and a desire for more. But also a charm and a seduction and something winningly ramshackle.
There was some commercial success, for a while, but not much. Longhair’s musical offspring have been plentiful, though: you can’t listen to Fats Domino or Dr John, Allen Toussaint or Huey Smith without hearing his influence. Nor Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley or Lennon and McCartney. After a period of obscurity in the 1960s, when he worked as a janitor and fell back into gambling, Longhair enjoyed a burst of success in the last decade or so of his life with tours and a new album deal and dues paid by Robbie Robertson and Robert Plant. After his death, on the eve of the release of a new record, he was awarded a posthumous Grammy and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame