Thursday, April 27, 2006:

The Roots Canal: Tipitina lyrics

Update: 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 la
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
The 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.

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]
Another wonderful pick. You and the Rev are two peas in a pod.

you know that the new elvis costello/allen toussaint cd has yet ANOTHER version of tipitina, this time costello wrote some (um, unneccessary but serviceable) new lyrics to 'tipitina'...i forget which track it is. actually i think it's 'ascension day'.

Where have you heard it? It's not out yet?

I'm pretty sure that the 1953 version says, "Loberta" rather than, "Roberta". Otherwise, very well done on the transcription.

You're absolutely right. My bad! It always sounded like Loberta to me, but I just assumed it was Roberta because -- hell, I guess I just fell prey to my cultural assumptions. After all, it's not as if the Professor always pronounced his lyrics in the King's English.

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.

Thank you! It was indeed very useful!

Great stuff!

In this performance on You Tube, you can clearly hear Fess sing "little mama wants a dollar ...

am I stating the obvious, or was Alberta, Alberta by Clapton based on Tipitina? the lyrics and melody are so similar.

I saw a documentary called'Going Back to New Orleans'(I think!)
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"!)

here's an update:
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!

I lived in New Orleans, in the building that once housed that "dusty record shop" where Fess was "discovered" sweeping up. J&M Records, with the back room set up as the original (and therefore only) recording studio in New Orleans. Where Fess and the rest of the New Orleans scene invented first R&B and then Rock 'N Roll 1948-1953. I used to get some of those old cats who were still around up in there to drink some bottles of port, smoke some cartons of cigarettes, and tell me old stories. From when that room upstairs was the only room in town where they could meet their White girlfriends. Break open a box of brand new vinyl with, say, "I Am the Fat Man" or "Shake Your Hips", pressed on it, and rock through the break before anyone else in the world heard those beats move them along.

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.

Thanks a lot for this rare and difficult to transcript lyrics

I think it's "your three times seven," not "you're three times seven." He calling himself the girl's "three times seven," that is, he wants it three times a day, seven days a week.

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