Most rock and roll music was inspired by, influenced by, or in some cases plain stole, the music of a tall skinny New Orleans blues piano player by the name of Professor Longhair. He came from a very poor background and started teaching himself piano on instruments which belonged to street players or had been discarded into back alleys, and working around the keys that still produced a sound. Creating a entirely new sound and genre of music.
In 1950 he had one commercial national hit with 'bald head' and recorded of Atlantic, Federal and other Local record labels. However the lacked the early crossover appeal for white audiences. "The vivacious rhumba-rhythmed piano blues and choked singing typical of Fess were too weird to sell millions of records" Tony Russell
“Fess broke it up everywhere we went - he was as big a hit as Fats Domino was. And I mean literally broke it up. We played Kansas City, and the guy owed us money and wanted to take out the damage Fess had done to the piano by kicking the piano when he played. We wouldn't go for that.”
Fess was always off the beaten path. He was alleged to have a dispute with the local musicians union and was banned from playing with in the New Orleans city limits!
In the 1960's his career faltered he became a janitor to support himself and he fell in to a gambling habit. Truly down and out and somewhat forgotten
He returned in 1971 to play at the New Orleans Jazz Festival to restore his rightful standing. Widespread success followed and recognition as a farther of blues.
Fess started to play that 'mambo-rumba boogie thing' and everyone started filing in. and he kept playing. “He didn't let it stop - he didn't let another group from another corner of that area jump in on him. When he stopped playing, there wasn't anybody else playing in the whole festival. They gave up - there wasn't any audience.”
“He progressed not in the general way of the world-he progressed in Professor Longhair's world,” reflects Allen Toussaint. “He didn't seem to have been influenced by the outside world as much as most other people. When Professor Longhair delivered something, it didn't follow any close suit to what the world was into.”
HATS OF TO FESS THIS MAN IS A LEGEND! someone really needs to make a film about him
You can find out more on the Tipitna's website