Styles & Forms | Louisiana Blues
New Orleans is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of jazz, but it also produced its own indigenous brand of blues, which borrowed from Texas and Kansas City while also making use of Cajun and Afro-Caribbean rhythm patterns.
A mix of croaking and yodeling, floating over the top of the music in an independent time scheme, Professor Longhair’s singular vocals added to his idiosyncratic charm. Influenced by New Orleans barrelhouse pianists Tuts Washington, Kid Stormy Weather and Sullivan Rock, Longhair developed his unique conception and made his recording debut in 1949 with the anthemic ‘Mardi Gras In New Orleans’, for the Dallas-based Star Talent label. In typically enigmatic fashion, he named his band The Shuffling Hungarians and scored a hit in 1950 for the Mercury label with ‘Bald Head’, which combined his rolling piano with some good-time bounce and hilarious lyrics.
Rolling Piano And Good-Time Bounce
In 1953, Longhair recorded another New Orleans anthem, ‘Tipitina’, for the Atlantic label, and in 1959 he revived his ‘Mardi Gras In New Orleans’ (retitled ‘Go To The Mardi Gras’) for the regional Ron imprint. After fading from the scene in the 1960s, his performance at the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1971 ignited a comeback, leading to a slew of recordings and international festival appearances. His last recording, the triumphant Crawfish Fiesta (Alligator Records), was released after his death on30 January 1980. Longhair’s irrepressible piano style was carried on by such Crescent City disciples as James Booker, Allen Toussaint, Fats Domino, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) and Henry Butler.
An accompanist to Longhair during his comeback years, Snooks Eaglin distinguished himself as a guitarist who could cover any style of music convincingly. Blind since birth, he developed a dazzling finger-style approach, which allowed him to shift easily from Delta-style blues to flamenco, to gospel, R&B, rock, surf guitar or jazz. His earliest recordings, for the Folkways label in 1958, present him in an acoustic folk blues setting, accompanied only by harmonica and washboard. His early 1960s sides for the Imperial label show him excelling at New Orleans R&B, while his output for the Black Top label from the late 1980s onward highlight his blistering, rock-tinged guitar work in funky, New Orleans-style settings. He remains a top attraction in the Crescent City, at both the Jazz & Heritage Festival and showcase venues such as Tipitina’s.
Swamp And Gospel
Another significant figure on the New Orleans blues scene was Eddie Jones (a.k.a Guitar Slim). Hailing from the Delta, he turned up in New Orleans at the age of 24, heavily influenced by Texas guitarist Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. His 1951 debut on the Imperial label featured the eerily distorted, nasty-toned guitar work and gospel-drenched vocals that would become his trademark. In 1954, his swampy, gospel-tinged track ‘The Things I Used To Do’, cut in New Orleans for the Specialty label, topped the R&B charts for 14 weeks and influenced a generation of young players,...
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