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Blakeview: Professor Longhair's 'Big Chief'

The song was composed by Earl King and Wardell Quezergue

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As we explore the history of some of the favorite songs on our Carnival playlist, we highlight a tune that wasn't even written with Mardi Gras in mind. Composed by the great Earl King and arranged by Wardell Quezergue, "Big Chief" is credited to Professor Longhair, whose piano playing style is in full form on the 1964 record. King provides the song's familiar whistle. He told writer Jeff Hannusch that he wrote the song years earlier in school. "I had the idea to record Fess with a lot of bass because I never thought he had been recorded right. So me and Wardell got together and he wrote out the horn arrangement for 15 pieces," King told Hannusch in his book, I Hear You Knockin'. The horn section was made up of musicians from Quezergue's big band, while others at the session included drummer Smokey Johnson and Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack on guitar. While King's vocals are heard on "Big Chief Part 2," the original plan was for Longhair's voice to be dubbed over later, which didn't happen. The record was released without much fanfare and didn't gain much attention. That changed in 1976, when it was included on the compilation album Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It since has become a Carnival classic.

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