The Roots Canal: Tipitina lyricsUpdate: Thanks to reader Mike and Amazon reviewer W. Flannery, I changed "Roberta" to "Loberta" and provided a translation for "oola malla walla dalla." For newcomers, the link is live again (for a limited time only).
Professor Longhair -- Tipitina (original)
I just spent more than an hour on the Internet searching for the lyrics (such as they are) to Tipitina and couldn't find them anywhere, so I spent another hour or so transcribing (deciphering?) them from the original 1953 Atlantic Records version. As a public service, here's the best I could do. If I made some mistakes, well, that's why God created comments.
Tipitina tra la la laThe Professor re-recorded this song several times after he was famously discovered sweeping floors in a local record shop and made a triumphant comeback appearance at the 1972 Jazzfest. The lyrics got even wilder in these recordings as the nonsense syllables stretched and twisted around on themselves like some kind of aural Moebius strip.
Whoa la la la-ah tra la la
Tipitina, oola malla walla dalla [little mama wants a dollar]
Tra ma tra la la
Hey Loberta, oh poor Loberta
Girl you hear me callin' you
Well you're three times seven, baby
Knows what you want to do
Say Loberta, oh poor Loberta
Girl, you tell me where you been
When you come home this mornin', honey
You had your belly full o' gin
I'll say hurry, hurry, come on Loberta
Girl, you have company waiting for you at home
Why don't you hurry little Loberta girl, hurry
Don't leave that boy alone
Tipitina tra la la la
Whoa la la la-ah tra la la la
Tipitina, hoola malla walla dalla
Tra ma ti na na
Come on baby, we're going ballin'
We're gonna have ourselves a good time
We gonna hoola tralla walla malla dalla
Drink some mellow wine
While I couldn't find the lyrics online, I did find a fascinating anecdote from Jerry Wexler in Rolling Stone about this recording. I'm not sure when it was written (the interview was posted online in 2005), but it was clearly decades after the fact. Take it for what it's worth:
When Ahmet [Ertegun] and I recorded it with Professor Longhair in 1953 in New Orleans, he came into the studio with absolutely no material. We said, "What the hell are we gonna do? We have no songs." But there were two songs around then: "Tra-La-La" and "Ti-Na-Na." Both were purported to convey encoded dope messages, like an R&B "Louie Louie." And they were both built on eight-bar chord changes, which was a very natural, harmonic basis for Longhair. Eight bar blues was very strong in New Orleans. We said to Fess, "Let's do something like "Tra-La-La" and "Ti-Na-Na," on eight bar changes. We cobbled it together in the studio.Well, I'm finally off to Jazzfest. Enjoy the Professor while I'm gone.
['Fess: The Professor Longhair Anthology]
It's amazing what a little Internet research will turn up. Loberta was the original title of Frankie Ford's Roberta (written by Huey Smith), which he changed because white kids couldn't relate to the name Loberta. (See this interview with Frankie Ford and this one with Johnny Vincent.) James Booker actually combines Tipitina and Loberta in a medley on King of the New Orleans Keyboard.
Here's another little tidbit that the Internet turned up. According to reviewer W. Flannery on Amazon, "oola malla walla dalla" was originally "Little Momma wants a dollar." That sounds plausible to me, too.
I'll fix the post for posterity's sake.
In this performance on You Tube, you can clearly hear Fess sing "little mama wants a dollar ...
Dr.John was interviewed (Naturally!)and he spoke the first few line of 'Tipitina'
I believed he said"Little mama want a dolla but won't swolla..."
Seriously,that's what it sounded like he said.
(Talk about your "dirty South"!)
on this youtube, Dr John sings:
"Tipitina why you hoola ... when you
know you wanna swalla, chile!"
aint called "dirty south" for no reason; party on, dudes!
One night I got Earl King up in there. He said that even on the versions that later featued Fess' voice edited in, it was still his whistling. And he told me that "Tipitina" was really about a woman named Tina who sold "reefer" out of her house. People would drive up, and Tina, who'd had her feet amputated after some typically New Orleans misfortune, would "tippy-toe" up on her pegged leg points with the product. Other products and services were available to those who knew to ask. Fess alludes to each and all of them in the "nonsense" lyrics he put out in those different recordings. All King could do was whistle.