Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Professor Longhair: 'Fess: The Professor Longhair Anthology [Rhino, 1994]
A local hero or less for most of his life, rumba boogiemeister Roy Byrd is the greatest rock and roller ever to peak past 50. Yet although all his excellent albums seem to permute "Bald Head," "Tipitina," "Hey Now Baby," the heaven-sent "Big Chief," and a few others into a canon, this two-hour set is where to figure what comes next--the only LP it plows under is Rock 'n' Roll Gumbo, reissued in 1985 by an adoring George Winston. Its strength is '50s singles, all at least near-classic save an overproduced "Big Chief," but I prefer the second disc, culled from the many ad hoc band sessions a belatedly feted 'Fess cut in the '70s. Not blues and not jazz and not exactly rock and roll, not as simple as Fats Domino or as popwise as Allen Toussaint or as schooled as James Booker, Longhair supposedly learned to play on a junked piano with an octave or two of surviving keys, and for the rest of his life he made that compass an infinitely expanding universe. His Latin-tinged time was on a par with Monk's, James Brown's, anyone's, and he was also a clown and a nut. If you've never heard him, you don't know as much as you think you do. He'll kick your funnybone and tickle your ass. A