“Tipitina,” “Big Chief,” “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”
Those and other songs by Professor Longhair, not to mention his brilliantly original piano playing, are part of the New Orleans soundtrack.
The Bach of rock, as Allen Toussaint calls the late Henry Roeland Byrd, is now the subject of a documentary film.
The makers of the in-production project report that it’s more than half finished. Seeking funds to complete the documentary, the filmmakers launched a Kickstarter campaign Nov. 19. The campaign runs through Dec. 19.
Titled “Making a Gumbo,” the Longhair film follows two recent documentaries about New Orleans singer-pianists.
Director Joe Lauro’s “The Big Beat,” about Fats Domino and his producer, Dave Bartholomew, premiered in October at the New Orleans Film Festival. Director Lily Keber’s “Bayou Maharajah,” a film about James Booker, premiered at the 2013 New Orleans Film Festival.
While Longhair’ s life intersected Domino’s and Booker’s, he preceded them on stage and in the recording studio. An influential and beloved figure in New Orleans music, he died in 1980 at 61, just as he seemed poised for his greatest international fame.
The “Making a Gumbo” production team includes Keber and the London- and New Orleans-based director Joshua Bagnall.
The filmmakers, co-producer Spencer Levin said, have shot many interviews thus far, including footage of Longhair’s fellow New Orleans piano players and admirers Toussaint, Dr. John and Jon Cleary.
“There’s an imaginary island somewhere between New Orleans and Cuba,” Cleary says of Longhair’s Caribbean-touched rhythms in the Kickstarter preview. “That’s where Professor Longhair is from.”
Other interviewees thus far include Henry Butler, one of Longhair’s piano students, and Longhair band members Robert Parker, Johnny Vidacovich and Reggie Scanlan,
Currently the filmmakers are seeking more film footage and photos of Longhair. Having funded the project themselves thus far, they hope a successful Kickstarter campaign will finance more filming, research, editing, transcription and licensing fees and other expenses.