Henry Byrd was born in 1918 in Bogalusa Louisiana.
He seems to have made a living on the streets as a dancer and hustler. Somehow, he learned to play piano, guitar and drums, becoming a member of several small bands. At the start of WW2, he joined the army. After discharge in 1943, he led a series of groups, and adopted the Longhair tag. He made a series of recordings - most featuring his distinctive 'rumba' beat - including Bald Head, Tipitina and Big Chief, which had little exposure outside New Orleans, but which were influential locally. In the 1960s he sank into obscurity - partly due to his aversion to travel. He was rediscovered early in the next decade and he remained a major live artist until his death in 1980.
This JSP recording is a priceless memento of 'Fess's only visit to Britain. I had started to bring American blues artists to England and was putting together the JSP label after some great musicians cried out for a recording deal. We were also seeking to redress the mix of American bluesmen that got to Europe - the rhythm 'n' blues guys were ignored due to the skewed musical tastes of the people who had been into the scene early. And why Professor Longhair as the first of these visitors' He was simply the most original, creative, influential and interesting of them all.
This recording is the concert he performed in London in a hall with superb acoustics and playing the kind of grand piano that a classical pianist would expect. The performances here stand alongside, and are a contrast to, his vintage recordings. They are post rediscovery yes, but really belong as a postscript to his earlier recordings rather than with the material he cut when he was finally discovered by that elusive 'wider audience'. This release is to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a seminal and classic concert and album and the life and music of a man who, from the 'small pond' of New Orleans spread waves of influence around the world. JOHN STEDMAN
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