Personnel: Professor Longhair (vocals, whistle, piano); Billy Gregory (guitar); Julius Farmer (bass guitar); Earl Gordon (drums).
Liner Note Author: John Sinclair.
Recording information: University Of Chicago Folk Festival, Chicago, IL (02/01/1976).
Photographer: Carlo Ditta.
A masterful pianist whose style was a rich mixture of blues, Latin, and Afro-Caribbean influences, Professor Longhair's music was as singular as New Orleans, the city he called home. Born Roy Byrd, Longhair was a hero in the Crescent City through the '50s, but it wasn't until the early '70s that he began receiving the recognition he deserved elsewhere. Longhair began performing outside Louisiana for the first time, and by 1976 he'd been playing across the country and all over the U.K. and Europe when he and his band made their way to Chicago to play a set at the Chicago Folk Festival. Longhair's performance was recorded for broadcast by a local radio station, and after 40 years, the set has finally been given commercial release under the title Live in Chicago. The surviving recording is somewhat less than ideal -- here, Fess was given an electric keyboard that doesn't suit his style as well as an authentic grand piano, and Billy Gregory's lead guitar, while expert, seems better suited to blues rock than the animated New Orleans rhythms that defined Longhair's music. But the rhythm section of Julius Farmer on bass and Earl Gordon on drums is strong and sympathetic, and once Longhair and the band lock in, the joyous stride of his piano and his nonchalant vocal style work their magic, and for sheer joy there is very little that can beat Professor Longhair on a good day. Featuring just seven songs and clocking in at less than half-an-hour, Live in Chicago delivers a small dose of a fine thing, but given the relatively small size of Fess' body of recorded work, any decently recorded live performance is worth cherishing, and fans of the New Orleans legend will be glad to have this document of his visit to Chicago in their collections. ~ Mark Deming