If New Orleans music is a gumbo, pianist Henry Roeland "Roy" Byrd – better known as Professor Longhair – is one of the chefs who filled the pot and lit the cooking fire. Variously hailed as “the Picasso of keyboard funk” and “the Bach of rock,” Byrd's syncopated music was as infectious as it was uncategorizable: his playing mixed blues, ragtime, zydeco, rhumba, mambo and calypso, while his hoarse singing voice cracked as it crept toward the high notes. A meandering recording career started in 1949 with two of his most popular songs, "Mardi Gras In New Orleans" and "She's Got No Hair," with the label crediting the tracks to "Longhair and his Shuffling Hungarians." A year later, under a different record company (Mercury) and using his real name (Roy Byrd & his Blues Jumpers), he rerecorded "She's Got No Hair" as "Bald Head," his first and only national R&B hit.
In 1953, while recording for Atlantic (his fourth label in five years ), Longhair cut yet another classic, "Tipitina." Pianists from Fats Domino and Huey "Piano" Smith to Allen Toussaint and Dr. John acknowledge Longhair's influence. The hum-along nonsense syllables and stutter stepping left-hand rhythm of "Tiptina" is both a symbol and staple of New Orleans music. "His songs could seemingly be heard on every block of New Orleans, but their unusual nature and regional emphasis meant they were rarely heard outside the city," noted blues scholar Michael Point. Professor Longhair's influence on New Orleans music was such that, in 1977, a group of devotees opened the club Tipitina's specifically to provide a place for Professor Longhair to perform in his final years. The Professor rarely left Louisiana, and remained a local treasure until his death in 1980. In 1992, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influence category.
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