Daily Archives: April 6, 2009

Professor Longhair The “Real King of Rock & Roll”

Okay, children, sit up and pay attention. It’s music history time.

There are many who claim the title of the “King of Rock & Roll.” Carl Perkins, Elvis, Little Richard, but for those who really know the score, the “Real King of Rock & Roll” was Henry Roeland Byrd, more universally known as “Professor Longhair.”

Born December 19, 1918 in Bogalusa, Louisiana. You can hear the Fess’s piano influence in such piano players as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Doctor John, James Booker, Ann Rabson (Saffire, the Uppity Blues Women) and, of course, Marcia Ball who you’ve seen here previously. When Paul McCartney had his 40th birthday party aboard the Queen Mary his musical entertainment for the evening was provided by Professor Longhair. When asked to do a documentary about the Fess and play with him Allen Toussaint, noted songwriter (Java, Southern Nights among many) and no mean ivory tickler in his own right said, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that…when the Fess plays the only thing I can do is listen.”

Albert Goldman, Elvis’s biographer, said that “Professor Longhair gave Elvis Presley his blue suede shoes voice and the arrangements gave producer Sam Phillips the sound.”

It was one of Fess’s songs that gave the world-famous music club located on the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas Streets its name…Tipitina’s.

I spent many nights there completely entranced by his music and always tried to stand as close to the stage as possible to watch his hands in action. A good friend of mine, Curtis Arsenault, aka Coco Robicheaux, who lived upstairs from me, was one of the doormen at Tip’s and would often let me slip in for free. On the night of January 29th, 1980, my girlfriend at the time and I were driving past the club. I said that Curtis was on the door and asked if she’d like to stop in and catch a set. “No,” she said, “I’m exhausted. Let’s just go home and go to bed.” That night after his gig Henry Roeland Byrd went home and on the morning of January 30th died in his sleep. He was given a New Orleans Jazz Funeral in February on what turned out to be the coldest day of 1980.

My friend Curtis told me he was going to do a bronze bust of the Fess in his honor. Curtis was a good artist and cartoonist, but I had no idea that he was capable of doing a bronze sculpture. He did as you can see below.


There is a small park kitty-corner to Tip’s and the original plan was to rename the park after the Fess and mount the bust there, but doo-doo transpires, as they say, and it never happened, so for the next two years the Fess served as the door stop of Curtis’s apartment. Happily it now sits just inside the entrance of Tipitina’s.

Here, then, is the Fess, himself, playing his song, Tipitina…..

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Health Care

When I used to tell people that I was thinking of retiring to Guatemala they’d inevitably ask: “What if you get sick down there?”

My standard answer was, “you either get better or you die.”‘

That’s really not a smart-assed answer, either. When you think about it, it’s only been within my lifetime (approaching 68) that we’ve had antibiotics. Penicillin and the like. Before I was born if you cut yourself there was a real, though remote, possibility that your wound could get infected and you might actually die. I was in my early teens when the heart-lung machine was invented paving the way to open-heart bypass surgery.

You either get better or you die.

We here in the United States have been brainwashed into the idea that we have the best health care in the world even though statistics prove that isn’t really so. Sure, if you live in a large metropolitan area as I do you have access to good care. I only live five blocks from a large medical center and when  I had my heart attack last July I was receiving treatment within minutes (at the cost of $58,000.00 for a two and a half day stay) and there’s no doubt it saved my life. But I also ask people what they think would happen to them if they were on vacation here in the land of the world’s best health care and they decided they wanted to visit say, Mr. Rushmore. They’re driving along the road to their destination and their heart goes YAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! What happens then? They’re dead! Period! Write the obit.

I’m not being morbid here. We each owe our creator a death. It’s the real cost of living. Each and every one of us is on that slippery slope and there’s no negotiating our way out of it. It’s going to happen. Of course there are some good jokes about the inevitable. “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather…not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car.” I’ve often said, “When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. I just don’t want to be on a plane when it’s someone else’s time to go and he drags me along with him. And how do they arrange it so that 200 people whose turn it is to go all get on the same plane together?

From what I’ve seen in Panama health care is decent and certainly reasonably priced. One of the medications I have to take daily is Plavix. Here in the States the cheapest price I’ve been able to find for it comes to $144/month. In Chitre, Panama I was able to walk into a pharmacy and buy it, without a prescription, for $80!

When I was staying with my friend Frank in Panama City he had to visit his doctor. We went to a nice modern clinic on the Via Argentina in El Cangrejo. As nice as any clinic available here in Fort Lauderdale. His bill was $3.19. That’s right, three dollars and nineteen cents and they chased him out the door to give him his penny change, too.

Just to prove I’m not joking I took this picture in Chitre:


General consultation with a doctor…$3.00. Try that in the States.

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