You can’t get away from Professor Longhair, a.k.a. ‘Fess. Piano freaks who appreciate all players and who don’t just specialize in jazz or classical will tell you it’s a dead heat between him, Ray Charles, and Booker T. Jones for the title of Greatest American Keyboard Player of All Time â€” and by “greatest” I mean possessing that trifecta of skill, entertainment value, and influence on future players. (Patented Mojo AsideÂ®: Gershwin and Liberace fans, you heard me right. You too, Chick Corea, Bernie Worrell, and Alicia Keys freakazoids. And it really pains me to leave Herbie Hancock, Memphis Slim, and James Booker off that list. Anyone who wants to pound me in the comments section for it, you’re justified. In fact, if the comments for this post become a “Who is the greatest American piano player and why?” free-for-all, I’ll enjoy participating.)
The Professor’s “Big Chief (Part 2)” is especially ubiquitous thanks to Lily Allen’s appropriation of its riff on “Knock ‘Em Out,” thus opening the ears of a whole ‘nother musical generation. There’s a little bit of a debate on who deserves the credit for this song â€” sometimes it’s Earl King, sometimes ‘Fess, and sometimes both. I’m on the ‘Fess side of the fence, because if there’s no deadly right-hand groove with that rock-solid left hand, there’s no legendary cut. He just plays it over and over and over and over, and at the end of a couple good minutes you’re under its spell. That, and the whistling. Who the hell does that? Yet here the whistling’s perfect. And the piano riff!
Part 2 is more commonly known than Part 1, I think; a lot of people who know “Big Chief” know just the second half because it’s the half with lyrics. Part 1 is the instrumental half, which I don’t yet have in my MP3 archives. However, a YouTuber posted it. Give it a spin …
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