No tags :(

Share it




While musical artists are like fingerprints in that no two are exactly alike, certain acts go beyond those basic differences and are essentially stylistic unicorns unto themselves.

Their distinctiveness is their primary drawing power and when they conform to more traditional approaches, even if it’s only by a matter of degrees, they often lose what makes them special.

Though this could hardly be called a conventional record by the broader genre’s standards in 1951, it’s much less less idiosyncratic than Professor Longhair’s usual output, which perhaps makes it being issued under the far more nondescript Roy Byrd artist designation all the more appropriate.


Don’t Do What I Wouldn’t Do
When it came to Atlantic Records’ treatment of the mercurial ‘Fess, their track record is pretty damn spotty.

In many ways it’s his Atlantic sides that are the cornerstone of his formidable legend, songs that while not hits are the ones – or at least the versions – which remain most well known seven decades down the road.

But even those come with an asterisk attached as many of the more potent alternate takes that are the accepted versions today were left on the shelf at the time and only came out in the 1970’s on their belated album of his work, the indispensable New Orleans Piano.

When they did manage to release the best takes on his material at the time, such as the infectious Hey Little Girl on the top side of this single, they only did so when the song itself became popular in other versions during the summer of 1951… almost two years after Longhair cut it and eighteen months after releasing their last single on him.

When looking for reasons… or excuses… for the delay, you could say that if his records weren’t selling there was no need wasting the cost of pressing, distributing and advertising them, but that’s not the case. His records had all sold well in his native New Orleans and even a surefire regional hit was well worth the expense to a company.

But maybe the other reason was that they were less than impressed with some of the remaining sides in the can, such as Willie Mae, a slow, methodical song that has its charms thanks to the uniqueness of his vocal chords alone, but also has far fewer of the signature traits he’s known for, making it one of the few efforts of his that could possibly be called… dare we say… mundane.


Out There, Anywhere
Anyone fearing that this broad assessment might mean this record isn’t instantly identifiable as a Professor Longhair performance need not worry, for he kicks things off with a spoken introduction that leaves no doubt as to its origins.

As always ‘Fess comes across as a strange mix of stereotypes, sort of a harmless drunken simpleton.

Now Roy Byrd was none of those things, but Professor Longhair excelled in portraying that character on record and here whittles that performance down to its barest essentials, not bothering to flesh it out some more with the whimsical flourishes that made him so special.

The entire song is built around what might just be the most palpable walking bass line in rock history, a slow trance-like pattern that is so insistent that it practically comes off like a mournful dirge, which is hardly the image one associates with that progression in music history or with ‘Fess under any guise.

Naturally it’s well played and fairly hypnotic even, but it’s not exactly compelling, certainly not exciting and for someone who is usually so full of musical quirks, the whole record actually kinda predictable.

The storyline doesn’t exactly help to make it more interesting, as ‘Fess is trying to cheer up Willie Mae, his girlfriend, before he leaves her.

Why he’s leaving, and for how long, isn’t made clear, so we’ll assume he’s departing on some business trip, a vacation or a stint in the pokey. Maybe he’s taking it on the lamb to avoid the latter for some violation of moonshining laws or something, but because he doesn’t divulge the reason, nor the length of his impending absence, we’re at a loss for how to react.

Is this a normal and expected undertaking… is he going to work for awhile in the oil fields of Texas for instance, or heading up the Mississippi River delivering sugarcane or sweet potatoes he harvested? If so, then her response is a bit of an overreaction and the tone that ‘Fess takes here can be read as reassuring, if not a little weary that he has to go through this routine again.

But if he’s done wrong and is leaving to get his kicks on Route 66 with his no account buddies then he comes off sounding more dismissive and unsympathetic… and the thing is, it can be either – or neither – of these things and that’s the problem!

Without a firm understanding of the circumstances and the subsequent emotions they’re dealing with, it’s just an exercise in supposition. He could be anything from a father taking his reluctant daughter to the first day of school or a murderer escaping the country by smuggling himself out on a freighter bound for South America.

Though the true story is surely a lot more humdrum than some of those possibilities, so too is the musical arrangement as even the piano break is toned down considerably from his usual off the wall techniques.

The record is never altogether boring exactly, but it’s also mostly keeping your interest by not divulging its purpose, making it a puzzle that frustrates more than stimulates which is the antithesis of the lion’s share of Professor Longhair’s musical output over the years.


I Won’t Be Gone To Stay
Every great athlete has an off-day from time to time, but in a long season those games are usually quickly forgotten.

The same is true for musicians and while Willie Mae is hardly going to define Professor Longhair in the long run, in the short term, when he was without a recording contract and this would be one half of his only release of the calendar year, it couldn’t have done his career prospects much good going forward.

Of course that’s when we remember that this was only a B-side and the top half of the single was as good as anything he’d ever done, so in that light it becomes a little easier to take.

Still, when we’re getting so few opportunities to hear from him on record, any side that doesn’t give us the full torrent of his boundless eccentricities has to go down as something of a disappointment, doesn’t it?


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