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FEDERAL 12073; MAY 1952



It makes sense on the surface, you have to admit that.

After years of saying how record companies in the singles era had to better utilize both sides of a record’s release to show two distinctly different aspects of an artist’s musical persona, you have to hand it to Federal Records for doing that here.

This is slow whereas the other side is fast. This presents a downcast mood while the upbeat side is celebratory and fun.

But, that being said, while both sides are indeed well done, when the more exuberant top half failed to click with the public they had to know that the bottom side – this one – wasn’t going to be able to pick up the slack commercially.

Ahh, dammit, there’s a flaw in every well laid plan, isn’t there?


Before I Learned To Call Your Name
Though the dominant musical image of Professor Longhair is that of a rollicking joyous party with a relentless beat, rolling piano and wild cracked vocals topped with horns gone crazy from the heat, ‘Fess was deeper than that and a more calculating showman than he’s usually given credit for.

He knew that in live venues you needed to bring audiences back to earth from time to time so that when you hit them with the full blast from the double-barreled uptempo assaults they’d be sent into orbit from the explosion.

Naturally that meant he had songs in his repertoire which acted like emotional anchors to keep you grounded, sober you up and get you anxious for another round of musical dynamite.

To that end Gone So Long was one of his biggest weapons in that setting, even though as a record on its own – heard in isolation without the barn-burners surrounding it – the song doesn’t have the same impact because it’s more low-key than his usual output.

Then again, “low-key” to Professor Longhair was hardly going to be anything truly despondent and there’s still plenty of quirks to be found to satisfy hardcore fans.

But even if this didn’t have much chance to be noticed by the hit-seeking rabble without a more bubbly effervescent spirit, he could be just as proficient with less flashy attributes and so the quality of the performance is never in doubt.

I’ll Do Anything In This World For You
Even if you’ve never heard it, the song has a faintly familiar ring to it as ‘Fess’s left hand is playing a hypnotic bass line that has been the anchor of countless New Orleans classics over the years. It’s slowed down here and so while that left hand is laying down the rhythm it also suggests a melody since his right hand is engaged in self-contained melodic flourishes that are always interesting but don’t necessarily lead anywhere.

Because that bass is so prominent the song appears slower than it actually is, not that ‘Fess himself is anything but lively when the vocals start as he’s (pick one, they all apply) whining… pleading… declaring his love for… a nameless woman.

Normally that kind of groveling doesn’t come off well, but with Longhair’s strained vocals, always on the verge of fracturing even in the best of moods, it’s oddly endearing.

As with so many of his songs, the title is nowhere to be found in the lyrics, but we can guess the reason why he’s beseeching this woman is because she’s been Gone So Long. We aren’t told her reasons for leaving, nor do we find out in the end whether she comes back, so as a story this is pretty flimsy.

But since when was ‘Fess overly concerned with telling stories, he was always more interested in tickling your senses with his music and if the lady in question is hesitant to believe his pledge to ”do anything in this world for you”, perhaps she can be swayed by his skill on the piano because that’s where this really stands out.

‘Fess blends that addictive left that churns relentlessly from start to finish while his right hand, especially during the extended break, flexes its creative muscles with a show that isn’t designed to be excessively flashy but is impressive just the same, bringing the faintest hints of jazz and classical into the mix so that it sounds stately and elegant – I’m sure to impress her – while never fully letting go of the juke joint feel.

This is always what made him so beguiling as an artist, he soaked up influences from across the spectrum, mixing them together yet always retaining his own personality in everything he did.

Here he can even be reduced to begging but by the way he sings and plays you’ll be the one following him in the end.


Tell Me That You Want Me
And so we come to yet another break in the story of Roy Byrd… Professor Longhair… ‘Fess… The Bach Of Rock… The Picasso Of Keyboard Funk.

His two year absence from the recording scene which will follow this release is inexplicable when looked at from a talent standpoint, if a little more understandable when viewed from a business perspective. But even without the sales to back up his legend it remains indefensible considering the sheer number of record companies now dedicated to rock ‘n’ roll who always seemed to run short of quality artists to try and draw some attention to their labels.

Who knows, maybe he was prescient about his fate when it came to naming this song Gone So Long, even as the music contained within shows he was far more than a one-trick pony stylistically, but apparently the only trick the record labels were interested in was securing hits.

It’ll take more than a year for him to get signed – back to Atlantic – but the curious thing is that considering how both Imperial and Specialty Records… and soon Aladdin as well… would be getting hits out of New Orleans, why none of them ever thought to sign ‘Fess for themselves.

The funny thing of course is seventy-one years later a lot of the hits of this era aren’t played nearly as much as even a Professor Longhair B-side.


(Visit the Artist page of Professor Longhair for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)