Monday, October 20, 2008

Dr. John vs. Professor Longhair

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages! It is time for… the New Orleans piano smack-off! Pianists, you know the rules. Go to your corners and come out drawling. No punches below the belt. No crawfish up the nose. Ready?


Round 1
Dr. John: Education counts, man. I’m a doctor!
Professor Longhair: You ain't no doctor! That's just a nickname. I'm a doctor and a professor. You know the song: "They call me Dr. Professor Longhair, but the ladies all call me a sweet ol’ lovin’ man!"
ROUND: Professor Longhair.

Round 2
DJ: My real name is Mac Rebennack. Top that!
PL: My real name is Roy Byrd. I know. How dull can you get?
ROUND: Dr. John

Round 3
DJ: My best album is “Dr. John’s Gumbo” from 1972. It includes the best version of the best New Orleans song ever! “Iko Iko” is a classic, man! Rolling Stone ranked my album No. 402 in the top 500 albums of all time. My grandma told your grandma I’m gonna set your flag on fire!
PL: My best album is “Rock ‘n Roll Gumbo” from my comeback period in 1977. It includes the instrumental classic “Doin’ It.” Lots of great honky-tonk, boogie-woogie piano on that one. Tell me how long has that train been gone?
ROUND: Dr. John

Round 4
DJ: I growl, man. My voice sounds like it’s been kicked around a dirt road a few times, then soaked in jambalaya.
PL: I sounded like Elvis before there was an Elvis, man! Deep, dark, honey-soaked voice.
ROUND: Dr. John

Round 5
DJ: You wanna know hard luck? I got exiled to LA! says: “Skirting trouble with the law and drugs, he left the increasingly unwelcome environs of New Orleans in the mid-'60s for Los Angeles, where he found session work with the help of fellow New Orleans expatriate Harold Battiste.”
PL: Oh man, that ain’t hard luck. says: “Justly worshipped a decade and a half after his death as a founding father of New Orleans R&B, Roy ‘Professor Longhair’ Byrd was nevertheless so down-and-out at one point in his long career that he was reduced to sweeping the floors in a record shop that once could have moved his platters by the boxful.”
ROUND: Professor Longhair

Round 6
DJ: I recorded “Stack-a-Lee.” It sounds jaunty and happy and bluesy, with horns, man, horns!
PL: I recorded “Stagger Lee,” too, but I spelled it right! It also sounds jaunty and happy and rocking, with a Chuck Berry-style guitar solo!
ROUND: Professor Longhair

Round 7
DJ: I’m the read deal. I was born in Louisiana, became popular in late 1960s and early 70s as the psychedelic “Night Tripper.” But later I sold out and did an album of Duke Ellington, and an album of standards with strings and a Popeye’s chicken ad jingle! But my best single, “Right Place Wrong Time” was No 9 in the country in 1973. No. 9!
PL: Hey, I was born in Louisiana, too, but I was popular long before you, in the 1950s, pretty much only with black audiences. Then I had a long fell from grace, but I rebounded in the 70s, pretty much with white audiences who recognized me as the godfather of New Orleans R&B. I’m the authentic sound of bluesy New Orleans!
ROUND: Professor Longhair

Well, there you have it, fight fans. It’s Professor Longhair by a decision. But honestly, you couldn’t go wrong with either of these fine gentlemen tickling the 88s. Get at least one CD of each. Now.


Howard said...

interesting set-to, but I gotta disagree STRONGLY on the best album round. 'Fess's best is his one-and-only New Orleans Piano on Atlantic, with "Tipitina," "Ball the Wall," "Mess Around" and his other classically lewd rumba-boogie hits, his wailing voice and uncredited New Orleans all-stars. Second best is Crawfish Fiesta, his final record on Alligator, with a swell contemporary (to 1979) N.O. little big band. Dr. John's greatest album is very likely his first, Gris Gris (Atco) when he billed himself as The NightTripper -- little in '60s psychedelia, New Orleans voodoo music and/or swamp rock matchs "I Walk on Guilded Splinters" and "Mama Roux" is indelible, among all the good tracks. His most recent album, City That Care Forgot," is also a standout, with more spine than many of his others, though In The RIght Place (produced by Toussaint, backed by the Nevilles). Desitively Bonaroo, Babylon (for sheer weirdness) and a 2-cd compilation of his earliest recordings issued a couple years ago (which I can't find on my shelves or online) are also knockout.

I gotta give the contest to Longhair, an originator, but Mac Rebennack is the real deal, a New Orleans piano pro with great love and knowledge of his tradition, extending it.

Jazz 88's said...

Howard, I can't argue too much with you. Well put. I can listen to pretty much anything by either guy and smile. Although I just couldn't get interested in Dr.John's "In a Sentimental Mood." I love standards, but this was just too shlocky. With strings! It reminded me too much of my father listening to Frank Sinatra and Perry Como on WNEW in NYC in the 60s. Not that there's anything WRONG with that...