cosimo matassa

This is my master’s thesis on Cosimo Matassa, which was the first long form piece of writing I’d ever done, in 2003. I wouldn’t write this the same way now, it reads a bit dry and formulaic, but the interviews I did with him meant a lot to me and I wanted to put his words out there for anyone who wants to know more about him. There’s also quotes of some great oral histories I did with Sal Doucette, Ernest McLean, and others’ interviews of Herb Hardesty, Red Tyler, Earl Palmer, Dave Bartholomew and all the great studio musicians that Cosimo recorded. And a LOT of New Orleans context, which is part of the reason why this is pretty long. 


This thesis was written under the guidance of my advisors at Tulane University, John Baron, Bruce Raeburn, and Felipe Smith, and I thank them all for challenging me and offering their knowledge and support. I began pursuing this topic after attending Bruce Raeburn’s seminars in the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, where I also received unending assistance from Lynn Abbott, Charles Chamberlin and Alma Freeman. I also offer my gratitude to researchers Tad Jones and Jack Stewart.

During my studies, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Ernest McLean, Salvador Doucette, Harold Battiste and Chuck Badie, and those conversations were enlightening and invaluable to my research. I would especially like to thank Cosimo Matassa for sharing stories from his fascinating life.


“The Studio was His Axe”:

New Orleans Rhythm & Blues

at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studios

Introduction                                                                                         1

  1. New Orleans in the Jim Crow South                                                8
  1. Cosimo’s Universe: the Man Behind the New Orleans Sound 13

-I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday:

   Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Amusement Company                              19

III.       Coming Together: New Orleans Rhythm & Blues                              22

-Music for All Occasions:

   Paul Gayten, Dave Bartholomew and The Studio Band                   29

  1. In the Studio: Music-Making and Race Relations at J&M 47

-New Arrangements: Studio Interaction at J&M                               56

-Two Cities, Two Studios:

   A New Orleans-Memphis Comparative                                           65

  1. Working in the Coalmine: Cosimo’s Attempts at Enterprise

and the Collapse of J&M                                                                    73

            -Postlude: No Regrets                                                                       78

            Endnotes and Bibliography                                                                 79



In 1945, Cosimo Matassa was tending night and day to his new business, the J&M Amusement Company, whose primary income came from maintaining jukeboxes in bars, restaurants and shops throughout the city. Cosimo and a partner had recently opened a storefront shop at the intersection of Rampart and Dumaine Streets on the outskirts of New Orleans’ French Quarter, selling home appliances, radios and records to the public.

After making the rounds during the day—stocking the machines with the latest records, making sure they were in proper running order, emptying out the coin slots—Cosimo returned to J&M where his other job awaited him. Wedged into a small area behind the showroom was a fully equipped recording studio. It was here that the “New Orleans Sound” was born; where Cosimo, a second generation Italian American, recorded nearly every New Orleans rhythm & blues[i] classic by the city’s top black musicians, including Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Lloyd Price and Little Richard.

From its inception after World War II until its demise in the late 1960s, Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studios acted as a forum where blacks and whites made music together, socialized together and conducted business together. In the 1940s and 1950s, Cosimo subverted the institutional barriers of Jim Crow segregation laws and mores, distancing himself from the white elite by running an “open shop.” He negotiated between two music unions, local 496 for blacks and local 174 for whites. In a time and place when it was standard practice to marginalize blacks, Cosimo treated the musicians he recorded as equals, and in interviews with them is repeatedly referred to as “one of the boys.” Saxophonist and producer Harold Battiste equated Cosimo’s role with that of the musicians: “What he was doing, that was his axe… Some people play saxophone, trumpet and piano, and he played them dials.”[ii]

Of course, by nature these relationships were driven by commerce, and pinpointing each party’s motivations long after the fact can be a tricky proposition, but there is overwhelming evidence of Cosimo’s unwillingness to participate in the prevailing racist norms of the day. In 1947, when Louisiana’s first black radio disc jockey, Dr. Daddy-O, began his career, he was not allowed to enter the hotel that housed the station through the front entrance or ride in the main elevator, so Cosimo invited the dee-jay to broadcast out of J&M and engineered an audio signal back to the radio station.[iii] When a black blues singer from rural Mississippi was brought to New Orleans for the first time to record at J&M, Cosimo (who calls himself a “facilitator” rather than the more technical “engineer”) took charge of putting the nervous musician at ease. “We finally just put the lights out in the studio and he was sitting there in the dark, singing. But now he wasn’t aware this place is strange, he got to feeling the way he would at home, sitting outside at night playing after work.”[iv]

This study will investigate the complex and multivalent interracial interaction that occurred at J&M and explicate how advances in race relations were taking place within the cultural milieu of New Orleans before being institutionalized at the political level.   During this period, hundreds of rhythm & blues hits were engineered by Cosimo, including “I’m Walkin’,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Sea Cruise” and “Working in the Coalmine.” Did the environment Cosimo fostered have an effect on the outcome—the music? What was unique about this strain of rhythm & blues in comparison with records made in other recording centers like Memphis and Los Angeles? And was J&M unique in New Orleans or do the experiences there tie into a broader locus of change and subversion of Jim Crow?

New Orleans rhythm & blues (R&B) has been explored principally in four books: John Broven’s Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans (1978); Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose and Tad Jones’ Up From the Cradle of Jazz (1986); and Jeff Hannusch’s I Hear You Knockin’ (1985) and The Soul of New Orleans (2002). Current researchers of New Orleans rhythm & blues owe a strong debt to these authors, who located many of the music-makers who have since died and preserved their stories.

This study departs from previous writings in several ways, most specifically by concentrating on the environs of J&M Studios in relation to the practices of the recording industry elsewhere and related businesses at home. The interaction within J&M will be compared with another music-oriented business in New Orleans where blacks and whites congregated in the years following World War II, the Grunewald School of Music. And the practices at J&M will be examined alongside those of Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis. Above all, the social, cultural, racial and musical issues that helped form a nationally identifiable “New Orleans Sound” will be explored and contextualized. From this vantage point, the music made at J&M can be situated in the larger pantheon of post-World War II rhythm & blues, and the work and attitudes of Cosimo Matassa can be examined in the context of New Orleans during Jim Crow.

Chapter I

New Orleans in the Jim Crow South

African Americans in post-World War II New Orleans came up through a segregated, Jim Crow society and it would be almost 20 years before public schools would become integrated and opportunities for enfranchisement would be expanded by the 1965 Voting Act. But while the institution of segregation had become more rigid in the first half of the 20th century, there were cracks in the system that allowed for loopholes; the challenge of enforcing a segregationist “ideal” in an urban, cosmopolitan landscape with a long history of lawlessness and fluid racial boundaries was simply beyond the resources and abilities of the law.

To some extent, the dominant class associated popular music venues with underworld activities where blacks and whites of questionable morals, ethics and character commingled. The paucity of press reports on black music in the first half of the 20th century reflects the prevailing “official” view that New Orleans music was at the very least of little social or artistic significance. [xiii]   The maintenance of segregation in musical environs was haphazard at best, and nonconformist white patrons in search of music at black nightclubs became somewhat commonplace. Rhythm & blues pianist Salvador Doucette remembered, “people who like music, they went any place in this city… in the arts it was very difficult to see if this time was really segregation time.”[xiv] Dew Drop Inn owner Frank Painia was arrested in 1952 and charged with disturbing the peace and “mixing” when white film star Zachary Scott visited his club, but the charges were dropped the next day. Cosimo Matassa frequented clubs around town, often chaperoning record label representatives in search of talent. Guitarist Ernest McLean said “all the clubs on Bourbon Street” had integrated bands in his youth. He remembers only one instance where the police raided the clubs and arrested the musicians. The bandstands were immediately re-integrated, because, as McLean said, “you’re not going to stop people from doing something they want to do.”[xv] In practice, segregation in the musical underworld was seemingly never enforced with any degree of consistency.

After World War II, the appearance of institutions that supported or allowed interracial interaction around music signified increasing subversion to Jim Crow. Black and white students and teachers worked together at the Grunewald School of Music, opened after World War II primarily to instruct returning servicemen on the GI Bill. The 1948 New Orleans telephone directory had two listings for Grunewald—colored and white—but the address and phone number were the same for both. Black and white students were divided into separate classes on separate floors, but interviews with former students reveal endless “exceptions”: black students studying with white teachers; white students jamming with black bands; blacks and whites socializing in the hallways or at the corner drug store.

The level of interaction that occurred between the whites downstairs and the blacks upstairs at Grunewald was a favorite topic of many former students. Saxophonist Red Tyler spoke of white students who “would sneak upstairs to listen to us… this was the same way that all of the jazz, swing, or whatever it was at that time, was played—in the black places.”[xvi] Chuck Badie was a student of a renowned elderly German bassist named Otto Finck, who “used to come up upstairs where we was at… because he was the only bass teacher they had there.” [xvii] The way Ernest McLean remembered it, “we couldn’t be in the same class but we got together.”[xviii]

While the interracial interaction that accompanied club life—white audience members patronizing black performances—can be seen as reinforcing Jim Crow, the Grunewald School offers a new example of institutionalized integration.   More than simply providing an environment for safe social interaction, the school was an arena for black-white collaboration: a shared experience that flew in the face of segregation. Beyond any ideological integrationist ideal, the owners of the Grunewald School were surely motivated by the financial possibilities of opening their doors to blacks, but the creation of an enterprise where whites and blacks consistently interacted was nonetheless a progressive concept.

Along with economic entrepreneurship, cultural imperatives were helping to break down socio-political walls. New Orleans musicians, inheritors of the glorious musical tradition of jazz, were also adept at adjusting to ever-changing market demands, and by the late-1940s that meant incorporating the emerging rhythm & blues sounds. They performed and recorded rhythm & blues not only for black club-goers and record buyers, but for a young and growing white audience. The new sounds were beamed to white households around the country as radio station programmers reacted to listener demands and adapted their formats to include rhythm & blues.

Virtually all of the New Orleans rhythm & blues music on the radio was recorded at yet another setting where segregationist laws and practices were subverted, Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studios. Before investigating the environment there, it is important to explore the background of the man behind it.

Chapter II

Cosimo’s Universe:

the Man Behind the New Orleans Sound

Cosimo Matassa was born in New Orleans on April 13, 1926, and raised in the French Quarter. His parents were first generation Italian Americans who came from Sicily around the turn of the century and eventually moved to New Orleans, where they met and married in the early 1920s. In 1924, Cosimo’s father John Matassa purchased a combination grocery store/saloon at 1001 Dauphine Street that remains in the family today. In similar fashion to the Grunewald School after it, the bar satisfied the surface demands of Jim Crow laws while simultaneously subverting segregationist ideals. Cosimo’s memories of his father’s business help to form an image of the young man who would spend his adult life working almost exclusively with black musicians:

With the segregation problem, my father opened up what amounted to two bars side by side. His own feelings about it was that it shouldn’t have been necessary, but he came up with a little thing. He made an opening between the two and he put the public phone in that opening. So it was like a phone booth with two doors. The doors were always open and there was some traffic back and forth. There were, in those days, tunes on the jukebox on the white side that black people liked to play and there were tunes on the jukebox on the black side that white people liked to play. They’d go back and forth playing the jukebox.[xix]

The racial attitudes of the Matassas were not unusual for Italians in New Orleans, over 90% of whom were originally from Sicily.[xx] The history of cordial relations between those of African descent and those of Italian heritage in New Orleans goes back to the earliest days of the immigrants’ arrival in the late-19th century. For years afterwards, the Italians were classed with city’s black population because they were willing to engage in what the resident white population looked upon as “Negroes’ work.”[xxi] George Cunningham commented in the Journal of Negro History, “the Italians assumed the status of Negroes. One blended into the other, and Southern thinking made no effort to distinguish between them.”[xxii] The prevailing black view was documented in the Italian American press, who noted that in Louisiana and Mississippi, black Southerners “made unabashed distinctions between Dagoes and white folks,” treating the former with a “friendly, first-name familiarity.”

Over time, Italians in New Orleans became businessmen and landowners in the multicultural downtown neighborhoods, eventually surpassing blacks economically but maintaining a relative amicability in close quarters. Many Italians, like the Matassas, continued to live or own businesses in the French Quarter long after World War II, interacting with black customers and employees and maintaining distinct identities as Italian Americans.

The common musical language of New Orleans helped establish connections between blacks, Italians and other ethnic groups, and the music venues and house parties served as meeting grounds for musicians crossing the color line (especially in the multicultural downtown neighborhoods of the French Quarter and Tremé). Tracing Italian participation in the New Orleans music community reveals a legacy of socializing and performing with blacks that dates back to the earliest days of jazz. Research from Guido Festinese suggests that of approximately 100 musicians counted among the “first generation” of New Orleans jazz, nearly a third had Italian names.”[xxiii] Clarinetist Leon Roppolo, leader of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, joined forces with Jelly Roll Morton for the first-ever interracial recording dates in July 1923.[xxiv] The two musicians, both raised in downtown New Orleans, had never worked together before the session in Richmond, Indiana, but the affinity of their social and musical experiences contributed to the success of the session.

Trumpeter Ernie “little Cag” Cagnolatti worked in bands with Creole musicians like Johnny St. Cyr and Harold Dejan starting in the 1930s, and became an initiate of Mother Catherine Seals, the leader of the predominantly black Spiritual Church in New Orleans.[xxv] “Little Cag” shared Italian and African American parentage, as did an increasing number of Creoles of color who were born in illegal wedlock or common law marriages.

Not all Italians in New Orleans were receptive to black interaction and one Italian musician in particular claimed jazz as his own invention. Cornetist Nick LaRocca led the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB), the first group to record jazz in New York in 1917, and claimed in The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band that “no jazz was being played here or anywhere else in 1908” (the year he remembers the ODJB making their debut). His dubious proclamation of never encountering African American musicians playing jazz in New Orleans has marred the historiography of the contribution of whites and others to early jazz, and obscured the debt many Italians have acknowledged to black musicians.[xxvi] As a frame of reference, it is worth noting that LaRocca was raised in the predominantly white uptown Irish Channel neighborhood, unlike the majority of Italian jazz musicians.

The contrasting example of bandleader Louis Prima may be more indicative of the attitudes of New Orleans musicians of Italian descent. Research by Bruce Raeburn at Tulane University details how Prima, who grew up downtown in the Tremé neighborhood, was influenced by black trumpeters Lee Collins and Henry “Kid” Rena in the 1920s. His later running partners included the legendary Creole pianist Burnell Santiago and Italian clarinetist Luke Schiro.[xxvii] Bassist Chuck Badie remembers Prima’s saxophonist Sam Butera studying black jazz musicians at a local nightclub, “standing at the bar and staring up at [black saxophonist] Lee Allen’s face all night long, picking up on Lee’s shit. Listen at his playing, he sounds just like Lee.”[xxviii]

Prima was the consummate entertainer and his early career was often compared to Louis Armstrong; first lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited his band to perform at the White House after hearing of his performances at black theatres like the Apollo in New York and the Howard in Washington, D.C. In the 1940s, Prima and Butera were able to combine their eclectic backgrounds of jazz performance and Italian heritage to create a singular style. In the nightclubs of Las Vegas, they developed their own repertoire that featured hard-driving swing rhythms, R&B-flavored honking sax solos, trumpet leads rooted in traditional jazz and boisterous, often clowning vocals that parodied or proliferated Italian American stereotypes, depending on the listener’s viewpoint.

The nightclub and saloon businesses that Prima and all New Orleans musicians came up through had a prominent Italian presence, and served to bridge many of the “underworld” activities in the city: music, liquor, organized crime and interracial gatherings. As early as the 1890s, Italians had set up saloons that featured black musicians and catered to black customers, a clientele the white elite had little interest in serving. Italian American historian Jean Scarpaci suggested, “such enterprises that serviced the black population were easily surrendered to the foreign entrepreneurs.”[xxix] Going into business for themselves was, of course, a far easier undertaking for Italians than blacks in the Jim Crow South, and though blacks and Italians had much in common, this capability was one of the many ways that segregation affected each group differently. As the struggle for civil rights emerged in the 1950s and 60s, a younger generation of blacks tended to view all whites as participants in the history of oppression, and Italians – often the only non-blacks still living in predominantly black neighborhoods – joined the “white flight” out of urban centers and into suburbia, where they slowly blended in and became “Americanized.”

In many ways, the life of Cosimo Matassa is characteristic of Italian Americans in New Orleans after World War I. During the day, his father’s saloon also functioned as a corner grocery, the business enterprise most associated with Italians, who owned 40 percent of the grocery stores in the city by 1920. These shops were often located in working-class, multicultural neighborhoods like the French Quarter, which had a large Italian and black residential population in addition to tourist-related businesses. [xxx] “It was really a blue-collar ghetto, looking back at it,” remembers Cosimo:

And there were a lot of blacks, incidentally, and the truth is we were integrated but didn’t know it. Meaning that there would be two or three white families and then a black family, two or three white families and then a black family, two black families—scattered all over, so we were living cheek by jowl and in harmony without knowing it, without realizing. … All of the public places weren’t [integrated], the schools, the restaurants, all of that, the buses. That baloney was going on, but I think person to person, there was a fair amount of integration. [xxxi]

Throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s, Cosimo was given a window into black culture while tending to customers at the grocery during the day and serving drinks in the saloon at night. A wall separated whites and blacks, but the bar ran the length of the shop, allowing the Matassas to go back and forth easily between the two sides to wait on customers.

Black and white interaction surrounded Cosimo, as did the hedonism and lawlessness that have always defined the French Quarter. Even before the Storyville district was officially closed and prostitution was made illegal in November 1917, prostitution had thrived in the French Quarter along what was known as the Tango Belt. Young Cosimo was told to steer clear of the area due to the drug dealing and violence that accompanied the prostitution.[xxxii]

Cosimo was also given a bird’s eye view of what he termed the “wink and a nod legality” of his father’s business, which had originally served as a barely concealed speakeasy during prohibition. Throughout Cosimo’s childhood, gambling tables were set up in the back room of the bar:

The black men used to play cards. They played a kind of poker called kotch. The ladies at their table would play pitty pat. There was no house take off of it; it was just there for their use. Because gambling was illegal the old man would pay five dollars a week per table to the police to let it alone.”[xxxiii]

Racketeering was also part of the Matassa’s jukebox business, which began auspiciously when John Matassa attempted to purchase his own jukebox for the bar:

In the early days New Orleans had a couple jukebox operators who controlled the jukebox business. Nobody else could get into the business. Well, my father found someway to buy a jukebox. He had it in there maybe a couple of weeks. And a policeman, in uniform, comes into the bar and tells my father that he’s gotta get rid of that jukebox. And my father told him in appropriate language to go to Hell, right? The next day the policeman came back with another policeman and a sledgehammer. And they took the jukebox and unplugged it and brought it out on the sidewalk and smashed it![xxxiv]

Eventually, Cosimo’s father made some “political friends” and was able to purchase and operate his own jukeboxes.

The organized crime and questionable law enforcement, along with illegal alcohol consumption, prostitution, drugs and gambling, all fell under the rubric of the “wink and a nod legality” in Cosimo’s universe. He considered the segregation laws “a nuisance” and was taught to see the color line as flexible.   “I was raised by a pair of strict Italian parents, who themselves had been discriminated against,” answered Cosimo when asked about his views on racism.   “You think they would allow me to think like that? No way.”[xxxv]

I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday:

Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Amusement Company

Cosimo worked as hard at school as he did in his family’s shop, and after graduating from high school at age 15 he enrolled in Tulane University. His aptitude in math and science led him to study chemistry, but he lost interest quickly and dropped out on the eve of his 18th birthday in 1944. Cosimo’s hard-driving father gave him an ultimatum: go back to school or start working.

Cosimo couldn’t stomach the thought of another chemistry class, so he opted for a role in a business venture his father had recently undertaken. John Matassa had entered into a partnership with his maintenance man, Joe Mancuso, taking over a small business owned by another Italian. The J&M Amusement Company (named for the two partners’ initials), looked after 30 jukeboxes located in various establishments around the city. “You name it, we had it. We had three whore houses; we had a couple of Spanish restaurants, some Creole places, a couple of sweet shops,” remembered Cosimo, who directed his math and science skills towards an education of an entirely different sort at the Gulf Radio School, learning to repair jukeboxes and electronics.[xxxvi]

In 1945, Cosimo bought his father’s half of the business and set up a storefront at 838 Rampart Street.   By this point, J&M had won favor among black-oriented businesses for supplying the latest and greatest rhythm & blues music. With the J&M Music Shop, Cosimo and Mancuso were able to bring in extra money by selling worn-out records from their jukeboxes to walk-in customers at the shop, expanding their reputation for stocking hard-to-find black music. When record sales began to take off, the men began carrying new records. “Place’s like Werlein’s, for instance, were rather stuffy about their records,” said Cosimo about the large record shops and music stores that catered mostly to whites. “They didn’t hop on to a hot thing the way somebody with a jukebox had to…. [W]e were in tune with that and so we had built in marketing.”[xxxvii]

The shop was located on the northwest border of the French Quarter, across the street from the historic Tremé neighborhood and what was once Congo Square. This downtown district, home to countless notable musicians, was notable in itself for its multiculturalism, a “crazy quilt” neighborhood where blacks and immigrant populations had lived side-by-side since before the Civil War. Rampart Street was home to many nightclubs and record shops in the post-World War II era, and word about J&M spread quickly. Cosimo made a conscious effort to attract a black clientele by advertising in publications like the Negro South, which served the black community.[xxxviii]

After purchasing the building, Mancuso came up with the idea of taking the business in a new direction. “The partner said ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had a place in the back where people could make records?'”[xxxix] It fell to Cosimo, the more technically oriented of the two, to go about setting up the facility, the first recording studio in New Orleans purposefully built to record music. Cosimo had sound equipment installed and a room designed behind the sales floor, and began reading books on the recording practices of the day.

An advertisement in the 1946 City Directory read, “J&M Music Shop: Automatic Phonographs – Electrical Appliances – Radio and Television Installations and Repairs – Records and Recordings.” Cosimo Matassa was only 18 years old, but in due time the “Recordings” service he provided would overshadow the other areas of his business and embed him into the fabric of the New Orleans music community.




Chapter III

Coming Together: New Orleans Rhythm & Blues

            By 1947, New Orleans rhythm & blues had begun to coalesce, and the hub of activity was J&M Recording Services. The studio in the back room had taken a front seat in the J&M business, and Joe Mancuso, bought out by the Matassas, was no longer in the picture. “It gradually got more and more into the recording and less and less into the other things and finally it was nothing but the recording studio business,” said Cosimo, who by default or choice was host to nearly all the musicians making recordings in New Orleans.[xl] Completing the circle were Cosimo’s clients: the many independent record labels that sprouted up during the post-war economic boom.

The record industry was in a state of constant flux after World War II, as the demand for black music of all sorts—jump blues, cocktail combos, vocal harmony groups, be-bop, big bands, gospel, city blues—was rising sharply, and the major labels were characteristically slow to act, leaving an opportunity for the independents to lead the way.   The major independents, like Imperial, Aladdin and Modern in Los Angeles, Chess in Chicago, King in Cincinnati and Atlantic in New York, were typically shoestring operations that survived on the occasional hit. Most were white-owned, often by immigrant ethnics (the Turkish-American Ertegun brothers at Atlantic; the Arab-American Bihari brothers at Modern) or Jews (Syd Nathan at King; Eddie Mesner at Aladdin; the Chess brothers), with the occasional black-owned label such as Don Robey’s Peacock in Houston and Juggy Murray’s Sue Records in New York.

Discs were manufactured at major label plants and record distribution to radio stations and stores was often handled by the label owners themselves out of the back of their cars or via freight train. In the mid-1940s, marketing was done through word of mouth and those few radio stations that permitted black music on the air, and most companies were content with sales of several thousand discs within the black community. Within just a few years, increased demand led to a proliferation of commercial outlets, and a small label with two or three employees had the potential of scoring a million-seller that was played on urban stations across the country.

In the realm of production, some label owners, like Leonard Chess, doubled as A&R (artist and repertory) men—discovering talent, picking musicians and material and arranging the sessions—but most relied on musicians who showed leadership potential to handle the musical chores. Studios were hired at an hourly rate, and in the best cases instrumentalists were paid union scale for a standard three-hour session.

The strain of popular rhythm & blues that related most directly to New Orleans was the infectious and danceable jump-blues style pioneered by Louis Jordan. Jordan came up through the big bands, much like the great New Orleans rhythm & blues bandleaders Dave Bartholomew and Paul Gayten, but a generation prior. In the late 1930s, he left Chick Webb’s orchestra, which had filled the dance floors at the famous Savoy Ballroom in Harlem for years, and formed his own downsized outfit, the Tympani Five. Their characteristic sound was driven by shuffle rhythms on the drums, a boogie-woogie piano pattern and Jordan’s alto sax riffs and solos.

Jordan composed and performed songs with urbanized arrangements and precise musicianship, but his comical personality and down-home jive also helped him win over audiences.   Jordan was an entertainer in the mold of Louis Armstrong, and their emphasis on carefree dance-based music put both men at odds with the progenitors of another music that was emerging at the time, be-bop.   The young, serious, modern jazzmen like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker accused the previous generation of “shucking and jiving” and named them contemporary Uncle Toms, pandering to audiences and disregarding the emotional and intellectual aspects of art and musicianship.[xli] For his part, Jordan thought the be-boppers of alienated audiences by “playing mostly for themselves.” His own goal was to “play for the people… When you come to hear Louis Jordan, you’d hear things to make you forget what you had to do the day before and just have a good time, a great time.”[xlii] The issue of the perceived dichotomy between “entertainers” and “artists” will arise later in a look at the performing lives of New Orleans rhythm & blues musicians, but it is important to note here that the joyous, visceral rhythm & blues music that Jordan pioneered fit squarely into the festival and dance traditions that define New Orleans music, and the city’s rhythm & blues musicians were able to absorb the new elements of the style with ease.

Jordan’s musical choices were driven by pragmatism as much as artistic preferences. Be-bop was an acquired taste that was below the radar of most record buyers; rhythm and blues discs sold by the truckload. Sales in black popular music recordings had grown drastically in the years following the Depression, and by the time Jordan had established his solo career artists perceived the value of their recordings differently. Discs originally served primarily as a promotional tool to increase attendance at live appearances, and the small fees offered by labels were inconsequential compared to the steady income of performing. (In his biography Backbeat, New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer commented about the early days of rhythm & blues recording. “Frankly, man, nobody considered what we were doing a big thing…. [P]eople figured, what’s so big about making records as opposed to playing down at the San Jacinto?”)[xliii] But when pioneers like Jordan (“Caledonia,” 1945) and Lionel Hampton (“Flying Home,” 1942) began selling hundreds of thousands of records in markets across the country, the financial aspects of record production transformed rapidly. In response to increased sales, the Associated Federation of Musicians called for strikes on recording sessions from 1942 to 1944 and 1948 to 1949, primarily because jukeboxes were taking jobs away from performing musicians.

Regional groups, with their feet planted firmly in the emerging rhythm & blues tradition, began placing more emphasis on recordings, and Joe Liggins’ “The Honeydripper” (1945), and Roy Milton’s “R.M. Blues” (1946) became national hits. Cosimo remembers New Orleans musicians initially “having a very provincial attitude,… ‘[W]e’re going to sell this from here to Pensacola’,… until the guys started coming in and demanding stuff that they could sell in Iowa.”[xliv] In 1949, the industry bible Billboard acknowledged the rising power of rhythm & blues record sales by changing the designation “race music” to the more market-friendly “rhythm & blues.”

The first label to take notice of the New Orleans music scene was De Luxe Records, based in Linden, New Jersey and owned by David and Julian Braun. The brothers surveyed the local talent on a visit to the city in early 1947, and hired J&M Studios to record three artists: Dave Bartholomew, Paul Gayten and Annie Laurie. After another visit to J&M in July 1947, they returned home with a recording that would revolutionize New Orleans rhythm & blues, Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” Because “Good Rockin’ Tonight” is representative not only of new directions in New Orleans rhythm & blues, but the related areas of music production, promotion, and consumption, it is worth investigating the construction and dissemination of the song and the consequences of its success. The story of its origins—legend in the history of New Orleans rhythm & blues—was best told by the singer himself to author John Broven in 1977, four years before he passed away at his Los Angeles home.[xlv]

Roy Brown began his career as a mellow crooner in the early 1940s by winning an amateur contest with his rendition of “I Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle,” which he learned from listening to recordings of his favorite vocalist, Bing Crosby. After setting up shop in Galveston, Texas in 1945, Brown’s drummer advised him to “learn some blues to make some extra money” and he responded with “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” his first composition in the rhythm & blues style. Penniless and back home in New Orleans two years later, Brown opened up the local black newspaper, the Louisiana Weekly, and found that Wynonie “Mr. Blues” Harris was appearing that night. He headed up to Foster’s Rainbow Room and sang “Good Rockin’ Tonight” for Harris during a break, hoping to sell the song for ten dollars. “Mr. Blues” was uninterested, but the song made such an impression on another singer in town, Cecil Gant, that Gant left his job at the Dew Drop Inn, called up Julian Braun at 2:30 in the morning and had Brown sing it over the phone. Braun knew a hit when he heard it and instructed Gant to “give him fifty dollars and don’t let him out of your sight.” Within the week, Braun was in New Orleans and Brown was recording his debut session at J&M Studios.

A standard union date called for the recording of four songs in a three hour period, so Brown quickly put together three more songs (“Miss Fanny Brown” and “Lollipop Mama” in the sought-after rhythm & blues dance vein, and “Long About Midnight” in the ballad style that he had been associated with in Galveston). It was “Good Rockin’ Tonight” that picked Brown up out of the gutter and led to a series of higher paying gigs. Wynonie Harris realized his mistake and recorded a version of the song that topped the charts, but Brown’s success was ensured. His precise enunciation and smooth voice, with its debt to Bing Crosby and other crooners, was a favorite among white listeners. Nashville dee-jay Hoss Allen remembered Brown winning a listener “write-in” contest in 1948, and the singer was later presented at the Grand Ole Opry House where he wowed the white audience.[xlvi] Of course, “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” with its expertly veiled sexual connotations of and use of the word “rock,” would later be tied to the rock ‘n’ roll explosion out of Memphis. Along with Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight” was the only urban blues number recorded by Elvis Presley at Memphis’ Sun Studios in the mid-1950s, and Brown’s song became so identified with Presley that authors Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins named their book about the Memphis sound Good Rockin’ Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

“Good Rockin’ Tonight” was also popular with black musicians in and out of New Orleans. In his groundbreaking 1966 study, Urban Blues, ethnomusicologist Charles Keil cited Brown as the primary model for Bobby Bland and Junior Parker. In New Orleans, the impact of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” was best expressed by dee-jay Dr. Daddy-O. “If I had to put my finger on an exact moment when rhythm & blues started in New Orleans, I’d have to say it was when Roy Brown came out with ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight.'”[xlvii] Brown’s formula was not new to the rhythm & blues world, but it turned New Orleans music upside-down almost overnight. Backed by a relatively unknown band led by drummer Bob Ogden, the song bore the influence of national trends that would later be combined with the essentially “homegrown” qualities of New Orleans music to create a distinct sound. The unison horn riffs were borrowed from the arrangements of West Coast rhythm & blues founders Joe Liggins, Roy Milton and Wynonie Harris. The honking tenor sax solo by Earl Barnes followed the style established by Illinois Jacquet and Earl Bostic in jazz, filtered through rhythm & blues men like Big Jay McNeely and Louis Jordan. The drums tapped out a swinging shuffle beat in the big band style. The bass line was directly linked to the prototypical boogie-woogie pattern, developed in the early part of the century by solo pianists like Jimmy Yancey and Pinetop Smith and later applied to the big band arrangements of Count Basie and Lucky Millinder, which in turn provided the template for the vast majority of rhythm & blues recordings, starting with Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five in the late 1930s.

The epochal recording set the tone for that vast majority of hits to come out of New Orleans for years afterwards: upbeat, mid-tempo, danceable songs that offered an escape from the toils of working-class city life. The production scenario also prefigured what became the standard practice for sessions at J&M. Recorded without a chart, the “head” arrangement was improvised in the moments before the actual recording began and hastily memorized by the horn players and rhythm section.[xlviii] This freewheeling method, an extension of the “wood shedding” practices of traditional jazz soloists, was atypical for urban rhythm & blues ensembles outside New Orleans, where studio fees were prohibitively high and written arrangements were the norm. Cosimo Matassa’s role of providing an environment where this casual and spontaneous mood of festivity could be expressed, and then capturing that expression, is of primary importance here. The Dave Bartholomew band, a collective identified as the “house” band at J&M by the end of the decade, would become the leading exemplars of this method in New Orleans.

Music for All Occasions:

Paul Gayten, Dave Bartholomew and The Studio Band

By all accounts, Dave Bartholomew and Paul Gayten were the top bandleaders in New Orleans during the transitional period immediately following World War II. Though Bartholomew and his indomitable group would become the backbone of much of the memorable music recorded at J&M Studios, Gayten was first to set up a rhythm & blues outfit in New Orleans and score a national hit. The parallel movements of these two titans of early New Orleans rhythm & blues give an indication of how the style arose in the city where jazz had flourished.

Gayten was born in 1920 in the town of Kentwood, La., 50 miles north of New Orleans, and had a career path laid out for him at an early age. “Everyone in my family played music,” he told John Broven in 1978. “My great grandfather, Gunzy Montgomery, he had a band in New Orleans, it was a jazz band.”[xlix] Gayten’s uncle was pianist Little Brother Montgomery, who favored a barrelhouse blues style that had already given over to boogie-woogie in urban centers across America. After he was drafted in 1940, Gayten’s musical inheritance aided him in his leadership of the big band at the army base in Biloxi. After his discharge, Gayten settled in New Orleans and slimmed his big band down to a combo, setting up residency at the Robin Hood nightclub at Jackson and LaSalle Streets in the Central City neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans.

            On their first trip to New Orleans in 1947, the Braun brothers auditioned Gayten and brought him into J&M for the first time. The pianist and singer returned the favor by giving De Luxe the first noteworthy hit to come out of the city, “True,” a ballad that drew much from the day’s biggest black star, Nat King Cole. Gayten crooned the mournful vocal and gently plucked chords from the piano, accompanied by guitar and bass in a trio arrangement that Cole had popularized in his cocktail club appearances in Los Angeles. It was a winning formula and Gayten catapulted out of New Orleans, touring black theatres around the U.S. and receiving top billing at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

Meanwhile, Dave Bartholomew was quickly becoming the dominant live attraction in a city where competition was waiting around every corner. Like Gayten, Bartholomew was born in 1920 outside New Orleans (in rural Edgard, La.), and came from a musical family, including his father Louis, a noted tuba player. “My father was a musician, and I just picked up things from the ragtime bands” the trumpeter told local journalist Vincent Fumar in 1978.[l] Bartholomew also broadened his musical experience in World War II, serving in an Army General Forces band, where he learned arranging and became a skilled reader, which prepared him for the leadership of Fats Pichon’s riverboat jazz band when the elder bandleader retired soon after the war. Bartholomew started his own group in New Orleans a year after Gayten in 1946, and made his first recordings for De Luxe in 1947. Both went on to lucrative careers as A&R men for two leading independent labels: Bartholomew for Los Angeles’ Imperial Records and Gayten for the Chicago-based Chess Records.

The similarities ended in the recording studio, where Gayten launched a successful national solo career while Bartholomew was still finding his feet. Though he would come to personify the sound of New Orleans rhythm & blues, Bartholomew’s first attempts were somewhat antiquated examples of big band jazz with elements of Dixieland, starting with his run-of-the-mill arrangement of the jazz standard “Stardust,” recorded at Cosimo’s in September 1947. Though he would direct hundreds of hits for others over the course of his entire career, Bartholomew had commercial success only once under his own name, with 1949’s “Country Boy,” one of his many novelty songs that had become crowd favorites at evening dances.

By the end of the 1940s, Dave Bartholomew and his musicians were living a dual life: as the Dave Bartholomew Band, they were known as the top performance outfit in town, and as the Studio Band, they were producing and playing behind most of the recordings made at J&M Studios. The band’s itinerary shifted dramatically after November, 1949, when Imperial Records owner Lew Chudd paid a visit to New Orleans and tracked down Bartholomew, whom he had first noticed two years prior at the Bronze Peacock nightclub in Houston.[li] Chudd came to New Orleans from Los Angeles in search of rhythm & blues singers to broaden his roster of mostly country and Mexican-American artists. He booked a double session with Tommy Ridgley and a singer Bartholomew had previously cut for De Luxe, Jewel King.

            Chudd was content with the results and extended his stay in hopes of finding more talent. Bartholomew and drummer Earl Palmer mentioned a pianist they’d heard in a small black club on the edge of New Orleans in the somewhat rural ninth ward. The men headed out for the Hidaway Inn, with Chudd on the floor of the taxi to avoid any run-ins with the police; segregation laws prohibited him from riding in a “mixed” cab or attending a black club.

The musicians didn’t think much of Antoine “Fats” Domino’s playing; his right hand monotonously rolled chords, while the left thumped along in a droning rhythm. But Chudd was impressed enough with the 21 year-old to set up a recording date at Cosimo’s for December 10, 1949. Bartholomew and Domino made plans to get together beforehand for a coaching session.

Chudd especially liked Domino’s version of “Junker Blues,” a New Orleans standard that had been recorded by local pianist Champion Jack Dupree in 1941. Champion Jack surely provided the foundation for Domino, who acknowledged in 1999, “I used to copy the records just like they was, before I made a record.”[lii] Bartholomew’s first task was to clean up the lyrics, replacing the protagonist—a hustler who used “junk,” or heroin—with Domino himself, a roly-poly and shy, yet eminently approachable figure. Along with three other songs, “The Fat Man” marked the first collaboration between Domino, Bartholomew, the Studio Band, Chudd and Matassa, a team that went on to record over 50 hits in 16 years.[liii]

In Bartholomew, Chudd had found a masterful producer, arranger, composer and bandleader who, until their fruitful meeting, had been limited to regional notoriety. All three of the artists Bartholomew produced for Imperial on Chudd’s trip to New Orleans enjoyed newfound success beyond Louisiana. Tommy Ridgley’s “Shrewsbury Blues,” a ballad about Ridgley’s neighborhood in suburban New Orleans, sold well throughout the Gulf South. Jewel King did even better with the sexy “3×7=21,” selling hundreds of thousands of records all across the country. But it was “The Fat Man” that announced a new, distinctly New Orleans sound to the growing rhythm & blues market. In many ways Domino’s first single encapsulates both a link to the past and a direction for the future of New Orleans music. Of course, the association of “The Fat Man” with “Junker Blues” connected the recording to the body of traditional New Orleans repertoire. The overpowering piano style situates Domino squarely in the city’s long established lineage of “piano professors”: greats like Jelly Roll Morton, Champion Jack, Burnell Santiago, Tuts Washington, and Domino’s contemporary, Professor Longhair. Domino’s friendly baritone and the wordless “wa-wa-wa” chorus exemplified the New Orleans penchant for lighthearted subject matter and frivolity.

One development in New Orleans music production introduced in “The Fat Man” was the consideration put into the lyrics. Bartholomew’s conscious effort to clean up the language shows a keen understanding of changing market considerations; a song that starts with the line “they call me the fat man, because I weigh two hundred pounds” was sure to receive more radio play and be more palatable to a broad audience than the original “Junker Blues,” which begins “they call me the junker, because I’m loaded all the time.” The success of Roy Brown, Paul Gayten and Bartholomew himself with “Country Boy,” indicated that there was money to be made in recordings that appealed to blacks of every strata and white youth as well. Most studies of this period assume that the alteration of rhythm & blues music to make it palpable to a wider audience came later, around the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s, but attempts at “crossover” had been going on for years. Louis Jordan, a hero to Bartholomew, explained to author Arnold Shaw that his early 1940s recordings were “geared toward the white as well as colored.”[liv] Bartholomew himself said as much to researchers David Booth and Colin Escott: “White folks didn’t like the blues so we give it to ’em gentle. It was sweet with a rough background, and that’s how Fats got in there.”[lv]

Another noticeable element in “The Fat Man”—one that would come to represent the hallmark of the New Orleans sound—was the beat. The hard-driving rhythm with an emphasis on the backbeat extended the legacy of New Orleans parade rhythms and the syncopation found in traditional jazz. Expertly introduced into rhythm & blues by Bartholomew’s drummer, Earl Palmer, “The Big Beat” would become more distinctive and prominent in the later recordings of Fats Domino and especially Little Richard (and will be discussed in greater depth below).

Sound quality was an issue with Cosimo Matassa’s recording of “The Fat Man” and other seminal recordings. Bandleader Dave Bartholomew, who acted as producer on the session, was disappointed in the sonic balance and commented that the piano drowned out almost everything else in the mix. Bartholomew later surmised that “Cosimo never had the right equipment in New Orleans” and several of the record companies that hired Cosimo commented that the recording gear was inadequate. [lvi]

An analysis of Cosimo’s facility does not bear out this theory. Though J&M was never at the forefront of sound technology, the essential pieces in the recording chain—recorders, mixers, microphones, etc.—were always of top quality. Cosimo has pointed out that the studio was designed by the prominent architect August Perez and “was actually state of the art at the time… it had a floating floor, multiple wall construction, noise reduction stuff in the air-conditioning ducts to bring down the noise. It had a multiple window control room. Two doors in and out for sound lock.”[lvii] Cosimo’s 30-year recording career spanned the major technological changes in record production—from disc recording in the mid-1940s, to mono reel-to-reel tape recorders by the end of the decade, then stereo in the late 1950s and finally multitrack recording by the late 1960s—and he always monitored these developments and upgraded to the necessary basic tools. Likewise, he was prepared for the changes in formats his recordings were distributed on, from 78rpm discs in the beginning to the 45rpm single and the LP in the late 1940s.

A more accurate assessment of Cosimo’s earliest work came from singer and pianist Tommy Ridgley: “Good sound didn’t come every day. Maybe two, three, four, five different people come in there to record, you didn’t get no good sound, and then he’d luck up on one.”[lviii] Cosimo admits, “New Orleans was not exactly a pillar of technology. There wasn’t anyplace I could go to somebody else’s studio and learn something.”[lix] Instead, he was experimenting vociferously in his cramped, 14′ x 16′ studio space. More than a question of luck, the early sounds emanating from J&M studios were subject to the varying results of Cosimo’s trial and error method of obtaining a well balanced mix. “In the early days our balance and production consisted of moving people and mics and instruments around until it sounded as close in the control room as it did to what you heard in the studio.” To compensate for his lack of experience, Cosimo took a tireless utilitarian approach to engineering. “It was OJT, on-the-job-training, and I learned as I went along by making a mistake and vowing not to do that again for the next time.”[lx]

Cosimo’s deep-seated sense of utility and his unflagging work ethic were inherited from his father, who worked all day, every day and was “very strict about the fact that everybody works.”[lxi]

When I went to grammar school a block and a half away, I had to work in the store for an hour or so. As a little kid I put soap on the bottom shelf and when I got older I put cans of soup on the higher shelves and when I got a little older I could put the corn flakes on the upper shelves. I worked and I didn’t get paid. It was part of the family’s work. There were no questions in my mind about it.[lxii]

Most of the musicians appreciated the effort Cosimo took to get a good sound and took note of his constant improvement. Drummer Earl Palmer said, “as unsophisticated as he was, I think Cosimo was a genius. I’ve seen engineers use two dozen mics to get the sound he got with three.”[lxiii]

A remark that cuts to the heart of what has been called the “New Orleans Sound” or “Cosimo’s Sound,” came from New Orleans pianist Dr. John, who recalled that Cosimo “would set the knobs for a session and very rarely move anything… it got to be known as ‘Cosimo’s Sound’ but it was the musician’s sound.”[lxiv] Dr. John’s somewhat brisk assessment of the engineer has the unintended effect of illustrating Cosimo’s overall philosophy regarding his role and mission: to capture the creativity of the musicians in a natural way that was true to the original performance and remain otherwise invisible. Cosimo would hardly object with the notion that the “New Orleans Sound” had more to do with a feeling and a style than a particular sonic quality. What Dr. John’s theory doesn’t explain is the role Cosimo played in providing an environment where the “musician’s sound” flowed freely—an important factor that will be investigated later in this study.

Like the musicians he recorded, Cosimo came through the studio door each day unaware of what was awaiting him, but armed with willingness to accomplish whatever the situation required. While it took the young engineer years to get up to speed with his “OJT” approach, the musicians arrived as a highly skilled and seasoned team, capable of responding to strict direction from their leader or providing innovative solutions when there was room for individualism.

Dave Bartholomew was an exacting bandleader and part of his expertise was finding multifaceted and dedicated musicians who could perform nearly any music in any situation. Pianist Salvador Doucette, who joined Bartholomew in 1947, remembers bouncing between society dances and late night jam sessions at seedy nightclubs from one night to the next. “You know, when you have 300 songs to choose from, you can really put together a set that’s fantastic—whatever the occasion might be. [Bartholomew’s] fame started by the fact that his band was so tight, it was so good people just wanted to hear it. No matter where you were playing they’d follow you.”[lxv] On the bandstand, an instrumentalist was expected to be able to read any song from Bartholomew’s book, or improvise a solo or riff in a less formal arrangement. A session call the next day might find them backing a ferociously energetic rock ‘n’ roller like Little Richard or a sweet gospel singer like Sam Cooke.

Most of the men—and there were no female band members, and few women singers—were not holdovers from the jazz era, but young hotshots, many of whom had furthered their understanding of music in the war. Like Bartholomew himself, almost all of his band came out of the armed forces, including drummer Earl Palmer, bassists Chuck Badie and Frank Fields, guitarist Ernest McLean, singer Tommy Ridgley and saxophonist Red Tyler (young pianist Salvador Doucette went on to serve in the Korean War after his tenure with Bartholomew’s band). As musicians in the service, the men played in diverse settings that prepared them for their performing lives in New Orleans: flag-raising anthems in the morning, bond rallies during the day and formal officer’s balls and USO dances for both black and white regiments at night. The men were often required to learn more than one instrument for a wide range of engagements; Ernest McLean played rhythm guitar with the big band, E-flat alto horn for the flag-raising and cymbals in the marching bands.

The military provided expert training to any enlisted man who needed it. Frank Fields had fond memories of the Navy band, where there were “great opportunities to get special training on any instrument you desired to play.[lxvi] Pianist Salvador Doucette studied French horn at the Navy School of Music in Anacostia for six months, a period he remembers as “the greatest experience I ever had, because I learned so much about music.”[lxvii]

Back in New Orleans after the war, many of these service men enrolled in the Grunewald School of Music under the GI Bill. Over half of Dave Bartholomew’s band—Earl Palmer, Chuck Badie, Ernest McLean, Red Tyler and Tommy Ridgley—were compensated by the government for partaking in this rigorous music curriculum that grounded musicians in the classics, while preparing them for success in the commercial marketplace. Tommy Ridgley recalled, “going to music school I got a foundation—musically, I mean—and this stayed with me.”[lxviii] Classes in music theory, arranging, solfege and the recently developed Schillinger system were presented as “Project Courses,” where students could progress at their own rate by completing assignments.[lxix] Red Tyler remembered, “one time I was going to try to make an arrangement and I had no clue to how to do it…. I just thought I could take a melody note and put notes down. It didn’t work, and then I learned how to do that.”[lxx]

How is it then that these highly skilled musicians, with sophisticated musical backgrounds, came to be associated with a visceral and often musically undemanding strain of rhythm & blues? One answer is simple economics. Rhythm & blues was at its height and compensation for sidemen provided enough to earn a steady living (approximately $40 per session in the late 1940s and gradually increasing throughout the 1950s and 60s).[lxxi] Many members of the Studio Band, like saxophonist Red Tyler, looked down upon the recordings that gave them notoriety but continued to play rhythm & blues because of the financial rewards. “I prefer be-bop. That’s what I do, I think, best. If I had my druthers, I’d be in the clubs playing jazz.”[lxxii] In his autobiography, drummer Earl Palmer was vehement about his jazz roots and love for the sophisticated sounds of be-bop:

Dave kept that band very commercial. He didn’t want no be-bop rhythm section…. but ask yourself: If I was one of the beginners of rhythm & blues, what was I playing before? I’m a jazz drummer. Jazz is all anybody played until we started making those records…. oh, I enjoyed going into the studio—I knew I’d make more money in six hours than in a week of playing gigs. But we didn’t realize how popular that stuff was getting. What was rock ‘n’ roll to me? I lived in a jazz world. I was not interested in Little Richard or Fats Domino.[lxxiii]

Bartholomew, who by some estimates earned millions of dollars from the over 400 songs that bore his credit as composer, offered a more evenhanded and pragmatic justification:

All my men came from the swing era…. but the kids couldn’t relate to that, so we changed the bass line and added the backbeat and handclaps—anything to make it rhythmic. I only used saxophones—no trumpets—’cause I wanted a mellow sound. I didn’t want to bend peoples ears too much.[lxxiv]

It was a difficult proposition to turn a blind eye towards the steady money and celebrity that were part and parcel of recording rhythm & blues, especially in a city that had little financial support for modern jazz. Salvador Doucette, who “stayed away from R&B as much as possible” after leaving Dave’s band in the early 1950s because his “main drive was to be a great pianist,” explained the dilemma of the bandsmen:

I think what happens to people is when they have a family—and Dave had a family, Earl had a family—you have to pay your bills. So not knowing that 20 or 30 years from today they’re going to find out that what they were doing was really great—I mean you can look back and say that was really great, but during that time they wanted to play jazz, but they’d do this other stuff, not necessarily what they wanted to play, but that made a living for them.[lxxv]

Saxophonist and producer Harold Battiste was one of the few New Orleans musicians to balance a career performing rhythm & blues and modern jazz:

Party music does not have a real higher meaning so to speak, and there’s nothing wrong, that’s very fundamental…. other music is more aimed at your mental thing and not necessarily your body thing. When you want to shake your body, you don’t want nothing that’s complicated…. if you want to play [modern jazz], you can play it among your buddies and so forth, but if you want to make a living, you got to make people happy, make them forget about their troubles.[lxxvi]

Unaware at the time that they were authoring a unique chapter in music history, many musicians expressed frustration with their inability to succeed in the intricacies of modern jazz performance. However, this dissatisfaction does not come across in the joyous rhythm & blues recordings they made. Even Earl Palmer, whose later career had him playing every conceivable form of music as a Los Angeles session musician, holds a special place in his heart for his days in New Orleans:

That was the most fun I’ve ever had playing music. I’ve played much more serious music since then, more challenging, which is gratifying to play,… but here again that’s a fulfillment, not fun.[lxxvii]

It would also be a mistake to assume that the abilities of the men were wasted on the rhythm & blues recordings. Instead, their skills were directed towards servicing the songs with whichever individual parts contributed to create an optimal whole for public consumption. Dave Bartholomew rarely took his trumpet out of the case, choosing instead to “only use saxophones” because “trumpets were going out” in the public’s mind.[lxxviii] Guitarist Ernest McLean wound up playing “more or less rhythm” on the majority of recordings, usually doubling the bass line. When he tried to add complex lines or chords to the arrangement, Bartholomew—whom the musicians called “Gestapo”—shot McLean a menacing glance, “’cause I’ll put jazz in it in a minute. So he’d say, ‘no, not that.'”[lxxix] The ability to play what a given song requires is not a matter of sheer simplicity but a sign of experience and an awareness of the power of understatement.

The motto of many New Orleans musicians past and present has been “music for all occasions,” and the Studio Band fit squarely in this tradition, with the experience and confidence to come prepared for any session. Though New Orleans rhythm & blues is primarily piano-based, the men also backed top guitarists T-Bone Walker, Guitar Slim and Earl King. The majority of recordings featured a solo singer, but the Studio Band played behind The Spiders, a vocal harmony quartet that hit with “I Didn’t Want to Do It” and “Witchcraft” in the mid-1950s, and the Dixie Cups, who recorded “Chapel of Love” and “Iko, Iko” in 1964. The New Orleans music scene was male dominated, but Annie Laurie, Jewel King, Irma Thomas, the Dixie Cups and others all recorded top-selling discs at Cosimo’s. Most of the hits were sung by black performers, but white singers Jimmy Clanton and Frankie Ford topped the charts with “Just a Dream” and “Sea Cruise” in 1958 and 1959 respectively, and Mac Rebennack, later known as Dr. John, was a regular at the studio. The city was identified with buoyant party music, but slow dancing was part of any party, and the ballads “True” (1947) by Paul Gayten, “I Wish Someone Would Care” (1964) by Irma Thomas and “Tell it Like it is” (1967) by Aaron Neville were hits also.

One of the most memorable oddities was Professor Longhair, an anachronistic performer who was somehow the embodiment of a distinctly New Orleans flavor. Longhair fused lazy Caribbean rhythms with blazing piano technique and nonsensical lyrics to create glorious and mystifying music—a sound too unique, apparently, for the public, who never fully supported him until the last years of his life in the 1970s. On a tour in 1950, Longhair and Fats Domino shared a bill with the backing of Dave Bartholomew and band, and most present remember Longhair stealing the show. “He killed them,” remembered Earl Palmer, “the tour bombed except for Professor Longhair.”[lxxx] (Longhair, who made a living as a professional card shark when he wasn’t playing piano, remembered beating Fats in backstage card games as well. “Fats Domino was my main subject playing Coon-Can…. [H]e didn’t want to quit, [and] I’d be so tired of winning his money.”)[lxxxi]

Professor Longhair’s complex chord changes, Latin-tinged rhythms and inimitable piano style endeared him to the members of the Studio Band, many of whom preferred his playing over Domino’s, including guitarist Ernest McLean. “We all wanted to play that stuff that Professor Longhair was doing.”[lxxxii] By the mid-1950s, Domino and Bartholomew had developed a successful formula for gearing their compositions to the tastes of a wider public, coming up with catchy tunes “that a seven-year old kid could start whistling.”[lxxxiii] Instead of manipulating his music to fit the public’s taste, Longhair simply dropped out, playing cards for money and sweeping floors at the One-Stop Record Shop. Red Tyler summed up the situation, “we thought there were far better artists than Fats… like Professor Longhair.”[lxxxiv]

In the studio, Cosimo was ready to accommodate any and all of the musicians’ idiosyncrasies and preferences. Professor Longhair was accustomed to performing without a rhythm section and compensating by kicking the base of his upright piano to provide the beat. When he arrived at J&M for his first sessions for Atlantic Records in 1950, he couldn’t get the feel he was used to on the baby grand, so Cosimo set up a board for Longhair to kick, “trying to make him feel at home. Because, in essence to a great extent that’s what we were doing, was trying to get people to feel in the studio as nearly as they felt in their home playing environment.”[lxxxv]

Just as the players in the Studio Band set aside their personal desires and musicianly concerns to serve the needs of Bartholomew and the record companies, the engineer placed a premium on providing a relaxed and natural environment where the creative juices could flow freely over any sonic and creative goals as an engineer. “I had this feeling, ‘I’m not supposed to intrude,'” said Cosimo, who saw himself as a “facilitator” in capturing spontaneous creation. Always recording the musicians together, “live” in the studio, Cosimo put as much thought into playing his part as the musicians did theirs:

I try not to come across that way, but I’m very philosophical about things. I knew in my mind what we were trying to do was preserve these performances. To get a performance onto the record and have it forever, frozen in time if you will. If you are going to do that you want your best effort to be what was frozen, not some sloppy second or third rate try.[lxxxvi]

In essence, Cosimo’s goal was achieving sonic “transparency”: a realistic reproduction in his recording booth of what was occurring live in the musician’s studio. Cosimo used a minimum number of microphones, and when he finally acquired effects such as reverb and equalization (EQ) in the mid-1950s, he used them sparingly. “I would listen in the studio, and then go back in the control room and try to make it sound like it sounded in the studio. That was my objective.”[lxxxvii] Though J&M would eventually respond to artistic demand and offer overdubbing by the mid-1950s (a process where multiple recorders were used to add additional “tracks,” such as background vocals or string parts, to the original performance), Cosimo was uneasy with the inorganic result, lamenting that the “interplay of musicians doesn’t prosper.”[lxxxviii]

With all of the technological advancement in the post-war era, Cosimo’s no-frills approach was becoming increasingly rare. Sun Records, the legendary Memphis label started by engineer Sam Phillips in 1952, became identified with a stuttering echo effect produced by wiring multiple reel-to-reel recorders together. Nearly all of Phillips’ recordings of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and others employ the electronic delay, which authors Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins described as making “three instruments sound as full as an orchestra.”[lxxxix] The major-label studios like Capitol in Los Angeles created a lusher, warmer echo sound (known as “reverb”) by constructing large “echo chambers” that simulated the acoustics of concert halls.[xc] Engineer Bunny Robyn, who recorded much of the black music in Los Angeles at Western Records and then his own Master Recorders, was known for his groundbreaking use of reverb and multiple microphones and was a wizard at the controls of his large mixing board with several equalizers to balance the mix. Many record labels took the stripped-down recordings made at Cosimo’s with three microphones and a three-input mixer to Bunny Robyn to “sweeten” the sound. Robyn fine-tuned most of Fats Domino’s hits after the initial sessions, “mastering” the raw tapes by adding reverb, adjusting the overall tonal balance (with EQ) and speeding up the masters to give the songs more pep and shorten their length. Cosimo admired Robyn and his work, but was content to continue his methods of unobtrusively capturing sound, routinely bringing Robyn into the picture for the final tweaking. “All of the equipment is just an enabler to preserve a recording, a performance, and that’s pretty much how I looked at it.”[xci]

Whatever approach the musicians and engineer were taking, it was working. Fats Domino, who initially had trouble matching the success of his breakthrough “The Fat Man,” began an unprecedented series of hits with “Goin’ Home” in 1952 and continued with “Ain’t That a Shame” (1955), “Blueberry Hill” (1956), “Blue Monday” (1956), “The Big Beat” (1957) and many more. Art Rupe, owner of Specialty Records, came from Los Angeles looking for another Fats Domino, and left with Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” one of the biggest hits of 1952. The same year, Eddie Mesner of Los Angeles’ Aladdin Records heard a $2 demo recording made at Cosimo’s by the 14-year old Shirley Goodman and paired her with neighbor Leonard Lee; Shirley & Lee debuted with “I’m Gone” and followed with “Feel So Good” (1955) and “Let the Good Times Roll” (1956). Ray Charles was a fixture around town, living at the Dew Drop Inn and launching his career on Atlantic Records. It wouldn’t be until after leaving New Orleans that Charles found success on his own, but in 1953 he produced Guitar Slim’s “The Things That I Used To Do” at J&M and the song topped the charts.

An identifiable and highly sought-after sound was becoming solidified: the “New Orleans Sound,” a catchall phrase that evoked both the festive spirit of the instrumentalists and the engineering methodology and philosophy that permitted the spirit to flow. Dave Bartholomew remembered, “people from all over the country were coming to get that sound. We didn’t have a [mixing] board to work with or nothing, but we had a sound.”[xcii] Ahmet Ertegun and his brother Neshui made their first New Orleans rhythm & blues recordings in 1949 and returned to New York excited about the distinctive sounds they’d heard. They came back with their staff arranger Jessie Stone, “to observe and maybe figure out what we could try to do again in New York,” as he told author Charlie Gillet in 1975. The trip was an educational one for Stone, who “had to learn rock and roll… and it wasn’t something I could do easily at first.” In New Orleans he realized that “the rhythm content was the important thing.” Back on the East Coast, however, Stone became frustrated trying to coach the vocal group The Clovers on the gritty and raw sounds he’d picked up at J&M. “The music I was trying to show them was based on the sound that I had picked up in the South, but they were northern boys and didn’t feel it.”[xciii]

Art Rupe remembers his competitor Ahmet Ertegun telling him “how lucky I had it because I went to New Orleans… and I got musicians who did this thing naturally. But he had to take New York jazz people and make them try to copy our type of urban blues.”[xciv]

Part of the essence of the experience of recording in New Orleans was the atmosphere at J&M and the approach Cosimo took in capturing it on disc. “The ideal use of a medium is when the medium disappears,” reasoned Cosimo. “If you’re at a motion picture theatre, you’re not aware it’s a movie, you’re in what’s taking place on the screen…. [T]o put that in the grooves of the record and have somebody hear that away in time and distance, that’s performing. That’s using the medium, you know.”[xcv] The main ingredient in the recipe, of course, was the music itself, which is primed for further investigation.

Chapter IV

In the Studio:

Music-Making and Race Relations at J&M

The pulse, the feel, the rhythm of New Orleans has been a defining element in the city’s music since the first accounts of slave gatherings at Congo Square, and many scholars have noted the importance of the distinctive march music in late 19thcentury New Orleans in influencing the easy-loping rhythms of early jazz. Early jazz musicians like Kid Ory, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong brought the “two-beat” rhythm with a syncopated emphasis on the off-beat (or “backbeat”), out of the streets and into the dancehalls, where the “ratty,” “funky” music was coterminous with highly visceral dance forms:

FIG. 1 “Two Beat” Rhythm[xcvi]

(Note: many rhythmic subtleties of New Orleans music, as in any non-notated form, defy precise transcription, and syncopation often comes from playing otherwise “straight” rhythms “ahead” or “behind” the beat.)

The big bands of the 1920s and 30s, like those of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Paul Whiteman, relied primarily on a refined two-beat rhythm known as the shuffle, in 4/4 meter, which typically employed a hi-hat cymbal playing triplet figures (often referred to as “swing-time”):

FIG.2 “Shuffle” Rhythm

Early New Orleans rhythm & blues also relied on this rhythm, which can be heard on the late 1940s and early 1950s recordings of Paul Gayten, Roy Brown, Fats Domino and nearly every artist at J&M. The similarity of the shuffle beat and the two-beat rhythms led many older New Orleans jazz musicians to posit a connection between rhythm & blues and traditional jazz (referred to as “Dixieland” by most in New Orleans). Fats Domino’s brother-in-law and mentor, guitarist and banjo player Harrison Verrett, referred to Fats’ music as “just old two-beat, like Dixieland but with rhythm and blues.”[xcvii] Jazz and rhythm & blues drummer Frank Parker said simply, “it’s New Orleans music, you know, it’s got the beat going, the same feeling, just different music.”[xcviii] By the early and mid-1950s, the rhythmic inventiveness of New Orleans would again lead to a shift that revolutionized the nation’s music.

“It was a beat you won’t hear anywhere else,” boasted Dave Bartholomew. “Our drummers are born—not made. A teacher don’t teach that.”[xcix] Bob Ogden, Charles “Hungry” Williams, John Boudreaux, June Gardner, Smokey Johnson, Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste—all put their stamp on New Orleans rhythm & blues recordings, but none was more influential than the great Earl Palmer. Said to have played on more recordings than any drummer in history, Earl got his start with Bartholomew’s band in 1947 and began changing the course of rhythm & blues by the next decade. His major advancement came with the transition from the shuffle beat to the “straight beat,” foregoing the triplets for a sparser eighth-note pattern while maintaining a slight syncopation and an emphasis on the backbeat. This rhythm laid the template for rock ‘n’ roll:

FIG.3 “Straight Beat”[c]

Though Palmer can be heard playing a variation of the hard-driving beat as early as 1949 on Jewel King’s “3×7=21,” it was on the recordings of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard in 1955 and 1956 that the rhythmic pulse was telegraphed around the world.

The mere presence of Little Richard in the J&M Studios was testament to the ineffable qualities and rising popularity of the New Orleans sound. The 19-year old singer and pianist from Macon, Georgia had been playing and recording gospel-based rhythm & blues music around the South for a few years before signing to Art Rupe’s Specialty Records. Rupe had recorded two chart-topping hits in New Orleans, Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (1952) and Guitar Slim’s “The Things That I Used To Do” (1954) and later told author Rick Coleman, “Richard told me he liked Fats Domino’s sound and I thought maybe lightning would strike twice if we recorded Little Richard at J&M Studios in New Orleans.”[ci] A session was booked for September 13, 1955, and Rupe’s producer Bumps Blackwell arranged some blues ballads for Richard to sing while Huey “Piano” Smith handled the piano part. After a disappointing start, the band took a lunch break at the Dew Drop Inn, where Blackwell remembered Richard letting off some steam at the piano:

He gets to going. He hits the piano, didididididididididi… and starts to sing, “Awop-bop-a-loo-mop a-good-Goddamn—Tutti Frutti, good booty…” I said, “wow, that’s what I want from you Richard. That’s a hit!”[cii]

Back in the studio, Richard took charge of the piano duties and sang “Tutti Frutti” with a hastily improvised arrangement (and more palatable lyrics by songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie). “This sumbitch is wild,” recalled Earl Palmer, who in “trying to match Richard’s right hand… started playing what they come to call a rock-and-roll beat.”[ciii] The frantic, high velocity songs Richard recorded in New Orleans over the next year— like “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Rip It Up” and “Lucille”—were faster and more rooted in the spirited church traditions of the rural Deep South than the unhurried, jazzy songs that the New Orleans musicians were accustomed to. To catch up, the men stripped their swinging rhythms down to fundamentals, creating two-minute bursts of relentless energy. Along with the popular guitar-based blues of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and elements of country music, the frantic excitement and bedrock beat of these seminal recordings gave white teenagers the ingredients used to create rock ‘n’ roll. According to Palmer, “the backbeat came about because the public wasn’t buying jazz, so we put something in that was simpler and that’s what made the difference.”[civ] Specialty Records owner Art Rupe could not overstate the importance of Palmer and his cohorts:

Richard owes his career in large measure to the fact that we had those [New Orleans] musicians. Those musicians were just the best in the world. And, as a matter of fact, rightfully they should have been part of the songwriters’ credits, because it was their head arrangements, their imagination and creativity which made our records the success that they were.[cv]

Another rhythmic innovation credited to Palmer was actually an extension of well-established New Orleans traditions: the incorporation of rhythms associated with New Orleans marching bands into rhythm & blues recordings by Fats Domino, Professor Longhair and others. The parade bands employ separate snare drummers and bass drummers (in the style of military and Sousa bands), who create patterns suitable for marching:

FIG.4 Typical “Parade Beat”[cvi]

The festivity and rhythmic pulse of the street parades, known as “second-lines,” had always been present in the rhythm & blues coming out of the city; Dave Bartholomew noted, “the marching bands, the street bands, and the bass drum is where I got my beat from,” while saxophonist Red Tyler said, “we always heard that beat in the back of our minds. That’s what it is about New Orleans music. We’re always tying in from that second-line feeling, even when we’re not playing it.”[cvii]

The emphasis on the parade beat became more literal in 1953, when Palmer and the Studio Band backed Professor Longhair on his anthem “Tipitina.” While Longhair laid out his trademark Caribbean-inflected piano stylings and the saxophones filled in the gaps with unison riffs, Palmer reduced the standing rhythm section of the marching bands to the drum kit. Tapping a two-beat syncopated rhythm on the bass drum with the right foot while the left kept time on the hi-hat, Palmer added two-handed snare drum rolls to invoke the traditional second-line beat, slowed down to a leisurely walking tempo to match Longhair’s lazy rhythms.

FIG.5 “Tipitina”

The parade beat was further updated and accelerated to great effect on Palmer’s favorite recording, the 1957 Fats Domino hit “I’m Walking.” After an introduction which features a solo bass drum pattern clearly influenced by parade rhythms, Palmer launched into the opening verse with a rolling snare drum pattern that emphasized the fourth beat in time-honored New Orleans style:[cviii]

FIG.6 “I’m Walkin'” introduction.

The ability of the musicians in the Studio Band to draw from and reshape the festival nature of New Orleans music in the recording studio speaks volumes of the sessions’ facilitator, Cosimo Matassa. Displaced from the street parades, nightclubs and jam sessions where the freewheeling music originated, the band members felt at ease to both reinterpret the patterns of celebration in an uncharacteristic environment and follow inspiration into new areas. Cosimo connected the music made at J&M with the live music it had sprouted from. “It’s the same thing when a good band plays. The guys feed off each other and the audience. When they get a response they do it again better, and the same things happened with the recording.”[cix] The spirit of experimentation connects to the spontaneity and improvisation of early jazz in New Orleans, qualities which had been diminished in the regimented arrangements of the big bands in the 1930s and 40s.

J&M became a locus for defining the festival canon in New Orleans, where nearly every Mardi Gras song was produced—”Mardi Gras in New Orleans” (1959), “Carnival Time” (1960) “Iko, Iko” (1964), etc.—and the overall spirit of New Orleans black culture was captured in an isolated recording room operated by a white entrepreneur. As a kid in the 1920s, drummer Frank Parker described a New Orleans where “there was music in every block, in every house…. It was always a party. Everyday was a party!”[cx] A generation later, J&M Studios had become an inherent part of this creative atmosphere for a teenage Shirley Goodman, who eventually entered the facility as half of the duo Shirley & Lee. “We used to come from school every day and watch all these big people going there to record records.”[cxi] Mac Rebennack remembered, “even as a kid… I was fascinated that this is where records are made.” As a teenager, Rebennack became a producer, songwriter and guitarist at J&M, and later recorded as Dr. John.[cxii]

          “The city that care forgot” was synonymous with revelry, and the carefree attitudes about sex, drinking and above all dancing were reflected in the music: Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” (1956), Professor Longhair’s “In the Night” (1953) and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya” (1961) were all recorded at J&M. With notable exceptions, New Orleans artists tended to steer clear of the broken-hearted love songs, sweet ballads and social commentary that met success elsewhere. New Orleans rhythm & blues, as with jazz before it, continued to be identified not with bluesy wails or churchy moans, but a celebratory shout of elation; a relief from the doldrums of the day.

By design or happenstance, one instance where New Orleans signified a destination for pleasure-seekers was the arrival of Sam Cooke at J&M Studios in 1956. The leader of the Soul Stirrers vocal group had become the leading superstar in the black gospel community, where his recordings and performances commonly inspired ecstatic responses, especially from female listeners. The dedicated, church-going audience was leery of the secularization of sacred music and frowned upon those who attempted to crossover into pop, which Cooke expressed notions of doing to his record man Art Rupe. Rupe had Cooke meet producer Bumps Blackwell in New Orleans, where the Studio Band ably backed him on four pop ballads released under the scarcely effective pseudonym Dale Cook. On the most memorable, “Loveable,” Cooke made a simple adjustment to a gospel song he had penned a year earlier for the Soul Stirrers, substituting “he’s wonderful” with “she’s loveable.” Few took notice of the gospel icon’s first secular releases, and Cooke quickly resumed his post with the Soul Stirrers for a New Years Eve concert at the Apollo Theatre. A few months later, he would irreparably change the course of both gospel and pop music with the release of the massive hit “You Send Me,” spurring an onslaught of gospel singers to crossover to pop.

Though Blackwell produced “You Send Me” in Los Angeles, his success in making Little Richard the prototype for crossover—re-channeling gospel’s energy into a mainstream music with tremendous commercial appeal—made New Orleans a natural choice for the first step in reinventing Cooke to take place. New Orleans was central to Blackwell’s, and others’ sense of what rock ‘n’ roll was.


New Arrangements:

Studio Interaction at J&M

Jazz musicians like Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway and Lionel Hampton who laid the foundations of rhythm & blues had graduated from the big bands and carried on the tradition of rehearsing arrangements before entering the studio and reading charts while recording. Jordan’s manager Berle Adams told researcher Arnold Shaw that his client “knew all the nuances of every song he ever recorded…. [E]very man knew exactly what to do,” and Jordan’s trumpeter Courtney Williams remembered, “he wanted his band to be rehearsed to perfection first.”[cxiii]   Dave Bartholomew was an experienced leader of big bands and was proud that his combo “could read, play anything,” but his musicians were also familiar with the less rigid “head” arrangements and were comfortable drawing upon creative impulse in the studio. “We would make the thing up right then,” said Red Tyler. “This may have been why some of the things were so groovy.”[cxiv] Tenor saxophonist Herbert Hardesty, who played most of the solos on Domino’s singles and led the band when Dave Bartholomew stopped going on the road, contributed to many improvised arrangements. “We didn’t know what we were gong to do until we got into the studio…. [A] lot of times we’d just write things as we went along. But before we left that studio, it was all put together.”[cxv] Shirley Goodman provided an illustration of the typical J&M session:

Lee [Allen] would say ‘Yeah, I’ll play this man.’ Ford [Clarence Ford] would say “OK, I’ll play this.’ Then Earl [Palmer] would get a beat and Dude [bassist Frank Fields] would fall in. It was easy, it was like we were one big family.

Later in her career, she found it difficult to adapt in a New York studio:

They had 29 instruments in there, and sheet music all over the place. I couldn’t understand it because all the best things we ever did were simple.[cxvi]

Art Rupe worked with bandleader Roy Milton on pre-recording sessions in Los Angeles, where the band “had to memorize every note and every nuance…. [T]hen I had to make sure that it sounded extemporaneous.”[cxvii] In Los Angeles, New York and other cities where music production was a well-established industry, entering the studio was thought of as the culmination of a process of composing, arranging and rehearsing the songs. Once tape was rolling, time was money and the period of experimentation was over. Union sessions were limited to three hours and closely monitored. In New Orleans, the musicians worked closely with the unions, but rarely ended a session until everyone involved was content with their performance. “Sometimes we’d work all day and half the night, but we never looked at the clock and we never worried about money,” remembered saxophonist Lee Allen.[cxviii] Herb Hardesty said much the same. “We didn’t leave until it was right. You know, we would stay in the studio sometimes for 18 hours, from morning until night in the studio until everything was right.”[cxix] The freeform approach to recording may have been another example of New Orleans traditions modified to suit a new context. Pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong described recording sessions in Chicago in the 1920s when her then-husband Louis Armstrong led other top New Orleans jazzmen in the Hot Fives and Sevens: “everybody played what they wanted to play…. [W]e never rehearsed before we’d make a record…. [W]e’d rehearse in the studio.”[cxx] The emphasis on improvised arrangements characterizes jazz recordings until today but has never been widespread in national rhythm & blues.

Producer and saxophonist Harold Battiste attempted to situate the scene at J&M in an even broader New Orleans context:

It’s the same thing that makes the Jazz Festival continue to be successful. It’s the spirit of the people in this city. It’s the same thing that makes a second-line parade, might pop up anytime on a Sunday. It’s the spirit of the people. I think the studio just joined in to the party of the spirit that was already here. Fortunately we had a place like that. See, most radio stations had some kind of way to record stuff, but nothing felt like it was a part of us. When I went into one, someplace on Canal St., I felt like I didn’t really belong in there, you know? But when I went into Cosimo’s that was like being home.[cxxi]

The organic approach New Orleans musicians took to creativity flourished at J&M, the city’s only consistent option for music-making in a relaxed environment, and contributing to the freedom of expression was a setting free from the normative racism of the time and place. In 1940, before J&M opened, journalist and jazzophile Heywood Hale Broun booked a session at radio station WWL with a traditional jazz band led by Kid Rena. “I arrived in the alley where colored musicians must gather while waiting to get at the studios,” wrote Broun in an article that gives a fascinating glimpse into music-making in the Jim Crow era. “[We] trooped noisily down the corridors of WWL amid a small sea of shocked and disapproving expressions. Seated in the studio the musicians were instructed about keeping pointed at the mic.”[cxxii] Cosimo noted that the difficulties didn’t cease as time progressed. “The problem with [recording at radio stations] was they treated everybody like stepchildren, you were a nuisance most of the time, so it wasn’t always a happy situation…. [Y]ou had to take a lot of time to make them comfortable and feel at ease so they could perform, and that didn’t lend itself to using a radio station.”[cxxiii]

As there were no other independent studios in New Orleans conducive to music production, occasional sessions at radio stations did occur.   Though many stations in New Orleans and throughout the country had adapted their format to include rhythm & blues by the late 1940s and early 1950s, the offices and studios of the stations remained segregated, and sessions featuring black musicians were generally scheduled off-hours. A legendary figure in New Orleans rhythm & blues who owed his success to two of these local radio stations was not a musician at all, but a disc jockey who went by the name of Dr. Daddy-O.

The first station in New Orleans to feature rhythm & blues music was WJMR, whose programmers had sensed that the new music was quickly becoming the choice of white and black youth in the South and added a rhythm & blues program in 1947.[cxxiv] The host of the popular show was “Poppa Stoppa,” a white dee-jay who played black music and spoke in black street lingo, never revealing his true color or identity. Poppa Stoppa was the brainchild of Vernon Winslow, an olive-skinned graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago who had come to New Orleans to teach advertising at Dillard University in 1938. Winslow approached WJMR about “expanding their Negro market,” as he told author Jeff Hannusch in 1985.

So I went down to the Jung Hotel, walked into the front door and up into the studio. Had they known I was black I could have been thrown in jail. I saw the man I’d spoken to on the phone and said, “Hello, my name is Winslow.” He looked at me once, looked at me twice, and said “hey, sit down, I want to talk to you.” And we talked quite a while until finally he said, “By the way, are you a nigger?”

I said, “I’m a Negro, yes.”

“We can’t do that,” he said. “Naw, they’d shoot us if we put a nigger on the air. But I’ll tell you what. If you write a script for a show you can train one of our announcers. We want somebody that can talk that language. Besides, niggers don’t want to be announcers.”[cxxv]

Winslow accepted the job and made nightly excursions to the city’s hotspots, taking note not only of the latest rhythm & blues records, but the colloquialisms and jive expressions of the audiences dancing to them. His observations shaped his musical choices and scripts for the each day’s “Jam, Jive and Gumbo” show. The charade ran smoothly until one night in 1948, when the white announcer was absent from the booth during a station break and Winslow read his own script over the air. He was immediately fired.

Fortunately, the advertising agents at Jax Brewing Company had been listening to Poppa Stoppa and eventually tracked down the show’s writer and offered him his own show at another spot on the dial, WWEZ. The beer giant was acting on a new study by their promotional department, which indicated that the market potential of the city’s black population had grown exponentially since the great urban migration of the 1930s and 40s and the close of World War II. The “Jivin’ with Jax” program would target this demographic with the new sounds they were inextricably linked with, New Orleans rhythm & blues.

WWEZ was willing to allow the first black announcer in Louisiana to broadcast on their air, especially with the financial backing of one of their biggest advertisers greasing the wheels. Winslow, however, was prohibited from riding in the main elevator of the hotel where WWEZ was located due to segregation laws. “They wanted Vernon to go up the freight elevator, because they didn’t allow black people in the hotel,” remembers Cosimo Matassa:

I mean to suffer that indignity to go up the freight elevator, we wouldn’t let that happen… and so we decided that wasn’t going to be, so I built a little console for him to record from my place and we had a leased audio line back to the station and we did it from my place, from J&M.[cxxvi]

Broadcasting out of J&M, Dr. Daddy-O became one of the most popular dee-jays in New Orleans and was contracted by Louisiana Weekly to write an entertainment column.

The scenario with Dr. Daddy-O is one of many that reveals Cosimo’s willingness to offer his clients a level of comfort that went beyond musical and sonic considerations. Cosimo accommodated, socialized and cohabitated with the black musicians to an unusual degree for a white businessman in Jim Crow era New Orleans. “Coz was one of the boys,” recalled singer and pianist Tommy Ridgley, who claimed that he and Cosimo “were the first black-white to get a sleeping berth train in New Orleans,” on a trip to New York in the late 1950s.[cxxvii] On the road as the manager of white teen idol Jimmy Clanton, Cosimo shared a hotel room with black bandleader Red Tyler each night.[cxxviii]

Most musicians’ memories center not on a man who went out of his way to “uplift” his black colleagues, but instead a quiet, jovial and approachable figure who was unconcerned with the color line and rarely spoke of race relations. “He did things with everybody, it didn’t matter who they were. He was just that kind of a person, a very gentle person,” said Salvador Doucette.[cxxix] Harold Battiste added, “Cosimo was very open, there was no intimidation. You know sometimes you go in studios where the engineers are sort of particular about their stuff—’don’t touch this or that’—Cosimo seemed to be very different. We all felt at home.”[cxxx] In his autobiography, Earl Palmer praised Cosimo and noted that his studio was one of the few places in town where he could be seen with his white girlfriend. He eventually grew disenchanted with the overwhelming racism in the South and moved to Los Angeles, where he married the young woman, Susan Weidenpesch.[cxxxi]

New Orleans had two musician’s unions, 496 for blacks and 174 for whites, but Cosimo consistently risked his relationship with the officials at 174 by booking “mixed” sessions where black and white musicians broke regulations by playing together.[cxxxii] Because of his openness, the successful businessman was unwelcome in the social circles of the city’s white elite. “There were a lot of fine Uptown folks that always referred to my studio as the ‘Nigger studio,'” remembers Cosimo. “The studio was never in the paper, there were no tea dansants for me.”[cxxxiii]

Guitarist Ernest McLean best summed up the feelings of everyone involved in making music at J&M:

Hate wasn’t our thing. We wanted to play music, that was the bottom line. Music doesn’t know any complexion. It could be white, black, or anything; music don’t know that, music don’t know those things.[cxxxiv]

The memories of Cosimo’s colloquial interactions with the musicians at his place of business may create the impression of a peer relationship, but of course, there was no question of black and white equality outside the studio walls. Discrimination against Italians aside, Cosimo was free from the stigma of being born with black skin in a Jim Crow town and the racism and disenfranchisement that was an inevitable part of black existence.   What distinguishes Cosimo, however, was his ability to project to the resident white population an image of J&M as a business model that fit squarely into the patterns of Jim Crow: a white businessman providing services to a black clientele, with all surface indicators pointing to a paternalistic relationship that was the order of the day. This image helped obscure the realities within J&M that were anathema to the majority of whites: the promotion of black culture and the furthering of economic activities for black musicians.

Dissecting the complex associations of Cosimo and the musicians at J&M reveals a pattern of social interaction as distinctive as the music made there. Many white entrepreneurs in the industry had quickly learned that one-time payments for services—sound recording, producing, promotion, etc. —added up to little in the long term. The riskier endeavors of record distribution and copyright ownership, on the other hand, reaped potentially enormous financial rewards. Cosimo made a handful of attempts at proprietorship and artist management, but all of his non-studio related ventures ended in failure. Consequently, the financial gap between him and the musicians was minimal, helping keep relations on an even keel. The instrumentalists may have looked at the paychecks of superstars like Fats Domino, Little Richard, songwriter Dave Bartholomew or record company owner Lew Chudd with envy and jealousy, but Cosimo consistently earned $15 per hour, essentially on par with the union rate of $41.25 per three-hour session that the musicians received.

Cosimo’s friendship with Harold Battiste is a fascinating, if extreme, illustration of race relations at J&M. After finishing his music degree at Dillard University, an all-black school, Battiste headed to Los Angeles where he worked on sessions with Art Rupe and Bumps Blackwell for Specialty Records. In 1957, he returned to New Orleans to open a local office for Specialty, where as A&R man he searched out talent and oversaw the recording process. Around this time, Battiste became Harold X, one of the earliest followers of Elijah Mohammed’s Nation of Islam in New Orleans. By the late 1950s, Battiste had grown frustrated with the pattern that governed the music industry in New Orleans: white-owned labels coming from other areas of the country to capture the artistry of the black musicians of the city and then leaving, having contributed little to the local business infrastructure:

We made $41 per session, and that was good money, but when those cats walked off with those tapes, they made thousands and thousands of dollars…. Elijah Mohammed was trying wake black people up to the fact that we didn’t really own any industry…. I said “man, as much music as we produce, seemingly we’re at the root of what people like. Why don’t we own it?”[cxxxv]

In 1961, Battiste founded the first black-owned record label in New Orleans, AFO, or All For One. He envisioned the enterprise as a musician’s co-op, and Cosimo was integral to their mission. “He wasn’t exploiting,” said Battiste. “I never felt any tension at all about race with Cosimo. It never occurred to me to think of him as white or black. Just Cosimo.” The engineer made a nearly identical statement about Battiste and his partners.   “They were my friends. They weren’t black, they were my friends.”[cxxxvi]

AFO had a distribution offer from another black record label-owner, Juggy Murray, who still runs the New York-based Sue Records. “When he got off the airplane, that’s the first time I realized he was black,” remembered Battiste. “Boy we was happy. ‘Oh, we got a black guy, going to be the national distributor.'” The first single on AFO/Sue had Battiste and his band, the AFO Executives, behind New Orleans singer Barbara George. The song “I Know,” recorded at J&M in June, 1961, topped the pop charts and became a top ten hit of 1962, immediately putting AFO in the company of the national independents. But the label was stung by the very man who helped get them off the ground. Murray walked off with Barbara George’s contract and signed her to Sue, leaving AFO without its star artist and leaving Battiste utterly deflated:

You think that bottom didn’t fall out? My whole dream about black people? I didn’t know if had to turn in my X, but I realized that that was a terrible mistake for me to believe that I could judge people by the color of their skin.[cxxxvii]

Cosimo continued to record all of AFO’s releases, but none ever again attained national notoriety. The AFO Executives concentrated on their true love, modern jazz, releasing several singles and LPs as one of the few great experimental bands in the history of New Orleans. However, modern jazz has never been able to maintain a substantial following in the dance-crazed city, and after the Executives dissolved, Battiste found himself back in Los Angeles where he eventually became Sonny & Cher’s band director and went on to produce the first few Dr. John albums. Always dressed in African garb, with a striking gray dreadlocked beard, Battiste is currently a professor at the University of New Orleans. He still follows the practices of Islam, and still socializes with Cosimo.

Cosimo’s openness towards the musicians he recorded at J&M would not resonate with such meaning today if it had little effect on the music made there. But as Dave Bartholomew observed when asked about the hits “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That a Shame” that he recorded with Fats Domino at Master Recorders in Hollywood, “we cut some with Bunny Robyn out on the west coast, but we had the feeling [in New Orleans].”[cxxxviii]

Two Cities, Two Studios:

A New Orleans-Memphis Comparative

Following in the footsteps of Cosimo, another young white engineer named Sam Phillips opened up the Memphis Recording Service in 1950, five years after J&M. While Cosimo had backed into the studio business through the urging of his early partner, Phillips intentionally set out to fill a void in the large musical mecca 400 miles north of New Orleans along the Mississippi River. Though he recorded the occasional white country artist, Phillips primarily tapped into the deep well of black music the city had to offer: rhythm & blues, rural blues, gospel and jug bands. As he told interviewer Nick Spitzer in 2002, “the word got around that you mean there is somebody that won’t rip us off, and they will record a black man?”[cxxxix] B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas and Little Junior Parker all made their first recordings with Phillips in the early 1950s. Engineering hits like “Rocket 88” (1951) and “Moanin’ at Midnight” (1951) for other labels, Phillips still had trouble making his $75 rent payment at 706 Union Avenue, and founded his own record label in 1952.

His ear for exceptional material and artists got Sun Records off to a respectable start, but Phillips was intent on breaking through to white audiences. “I was looking for a white person that could become, hopefully, a recognized person, or artist, to show the kinship—how close it was between poor white people and poor black people.” In 1955, he found what he was looking for in the form of Elvis Aaron Presley, whose initial recordings for Sun stand together as one of the great artistic statements of the 20th century. They also show how a young white Southerner who grew up in a racially diverse environment with access to a radio and a phonograph could absorb and refashion an exceptionally wide array of cultural styles: rural electric blues (Big Boy Crudup’s “That’s All Right”), modern country (“Milk Cow Blues” as played by Bob Wills), saccharine pop (“I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine” from Disney’s Cinderella), rural bluegrass (Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky”), and urban New Orleans rhythm & blues (Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight”). At the height of his career, Presley would enjoy hits with two other New Orleans rhythm & blues songs, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (1956) by Lloyd Price and Smiley Lewis’ “One Night” (1958).

Sam Phillips sold Presley’s contract to RCA Records in 1956 for the seemingly paltry sum of $35,000. In actuality, it was one of the most mutually lucrative buyouts in the history of the industry, and Phillips used the capital to fund hit recordings by Carl Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes,” 1956), Johnny Cash (“I Walk the Line,” 1956) and Jerry Lee Lewis (“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” 1957). In the 1960s, Phillips invested in a fledgling hotel chain, which he soon helped build into the largest in the country, Holiday Inn.

After striking gold with white rock ‘n’ roll, Phillips was accused by some of abandoning black artists, a charge he doesn’t completely deny. “It’s like Rufus Thomas said about me ‘man, as soon, as Elvis came in he dropped all of us black boys.’ Well, its kind of true that I did, but by that time they were being recorded by so many other great labels.”[cxl] Phillips also secured partial authorship of some of the material he recorded, allowing him to collect royalties on songs such as Little Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.” In the case of Rufus Thomas’ recording of “Bear Cat,” an answer to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” Phillips claimed he was the sole composer, and lost a plagiarism lawsuit to the composers of “Hound Dog.”

Practices far worse than Phillips’ were common among label owners, many of whom blatantly and consistently withheld royalty payments and misrepresented sales figures to the black musicians on their roster, often keeping them content with intermittent handouts and lavish “gifts,” like luxury cars. Phillips never engaged in this level of immorality. He was a just businessman who cared greatly about his artists and their music, but it also cannot be said that his business career was free from controversy.

Cosimo was able to steer clear of any discord with musicians in part because his most successful roles were centered on engineering and facilitating sessions, not producing or funding them. Sun Records was a self-described “one man operation,” while Cosimo was an active player in a team that included the Studio Band, A&R men and record company owners. In New Orleans, a city with a rich legacy of participatory music—where young musicians start out by beating on cowbells, tambourines or beer bottles in second-line parades—music production was a collaborative process. As a talent scout, Phillips was responsible for discovering local artists and signing them to his own label. Cosimo himself made excursions into the nightclubs hunting for new artists, but usually at the behest of a third party:

If somebody from a record company came in, I would take him around to the black clubs, and sometimes we recorded the same things they used in their acts…. [A]nd then when somebody would come in and say “well, we need a band.” I would go find ’em, you know.[cxli]

Phillips, a driven and charismatic figure who had no musical training, would oversee the sessions at Sun and had an extraordinary ability to energize the musicians and bring out the best in them. He defined himself as a “man who listened to an artist for his native abilities, then tried to encourage and channel the artist into what would be a proper outlet for his abilities.”[cxlii] Cosimo, more representative of the relaxed and down-to-earth approach of New Orleans, left the producing to expert musicians like Dave Bartholomew, Bumps Blackwell or Allen Toussaint. Though he was typically the point person for booking the band and was always ready to offer suggestions to the A&R men, the instances where Cosimo focused on producing and arranging can be counted on one hand.[cxliii] “The orientation was to make a living,” he said. “You know, pay the rent, buy the groceries, maybe enjoy it along the way.”[cxliv]

An area where Sam Phillips and Cosimo Matassa had much in common was their emphasis on providing an environment where creativity, inspiration and freedom of expression held primacy over all else. In the introduction to Good Rockin’ Tonight, Presley biographer Peter Guralnick wrote, “It was atmosphere, and atmosphere alone, that characterized the Sun studio.”[cxlv] Phillips himself said, “I think life can be awfully miserable if we look at things as having to be too nearly perfect. I look for an overall feel…. [P]eople had to enjoy what they were doing.”[cxlvi] Cosimo espoused a similar philosophy, “if you transmit an emotion to the listener, it’s a good record…. [T]o put that in the grooves of the record and have somebody hear that away in time and distance, that’s performing.”[cxlvii] Studio Band saxophonist Lee Allen remembered “we usually had a lot of fun in the studio,… you can hear that on a lot of the stuff we do.”[cxlviii]

Cosimo’s entrepreneurial success in the studio business was also akin to Phillips’; like Memphis Recording Service, J&M was the only legitimate studio in town and attained legendary status as a hub for musical activity. From a purely statistical and quantitative viewpoint, more rhythm & blues and pop hits were recorded by Cosimo than Phillips many times over. However, Phillips is remembered as “The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll” and was the first non-performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while Cosimo is known by only a select few beyond the city limits of his hometown. Sun Studios is now a popular Memphis tourist attraction, with a gift shop full of memorabilia and hourly tours of the studio. The building that once housed J&M Studios is the current site of Hula Mae’s Tropic Wash, a laundromat.

At the core of this disparity is the attention paid to Memphis as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll; where the synthesis of rural and urban, white and black music was perfected in the form of Presley, and mainstream American culture was turned upside-down. The role New Orleans played as an influence on this explosion varies according to each researcher’s viewpoints, and is too large of a subject to explore here, but a short discussion of the varying definitions of rock ‘n’ roll in Memphis and New Orleans will help illuminate the differing attitudes regarding race at Sun Studios and J&M.[cxlix]

In his excellent monograph A Tale of Two Cities: Memphis Rock and New Orleans Roll, music critic and scholar Robert Palmer offered an overview of the two Southern cities and their contribution to the development of rock ‘n’ roll. [cl] He writes of New Orleans rhythm & blues as having sprung from a rich and unbroken cultural legacy that was linked to both African music and its emphasis on rhythm and the urbane, sophisticated orchestrations of jazz. Memphis was a younger city, a crossroads with “no long-standing traditions of its own,” whose musical identity was forged by rural migrants who brought country, blues and other forms to the city, where a process of urbanization created a new musical hybrid. Palmer concludes by crediting New Orleans as the key influence on “rock-and-roll as we know it,” but it was Memphis that “furnished the spark that was needed” to transform popular music.

To follow up on Palmer’s study with an emphasis on race, one needs only to contrast the careers of each city’s biggest star, Elvis Presley and Fats Domino. The available research on Presley could fill a small library, while no published biography of Domino exists.[cli] Few researchers have noted that second to the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” in overall record sales for the 1950s was Domino. The fervor that Presley caused in his hip-shaking concert and television appearances is often credited to the fact that a white artist was picking up on black expressions and translating them to a white audience. Yet throughout the mid to late 1950s, Domino headlined integrated package tours to sold-out crowds that were often strictly white, and on at least three occasions his action-packed shows caused riots and the singer was forced to leave the stage.[clii]

The attraction of rock ‘n’ roll to white youth struck fear in the hearts of parents everywhere.   Much of the backlash was due to the black orientation of the music and dance their children were appropriating, and the sexual overtones of the message and the movement of rock related directly to its black roots. [cliii] Picking up on black culture was a dangerous step towards what mainstream white American feared most in the 1950s, miscegenation.

After attempting in vain for years to earn a stable living recording black music, Sam Phillips—operating in the heart of the Deep South, where the fury over miscegenation ran rampant—decided the answer to his problems was finding a white artist to deliver black-oriented music to the white record-buying public.   After cultivating an overwhelmingly successful prototype in the form of Elvis Presley, Phillips focused his energies on duplicating that success with other white artists. The production team at J&M, on the other hand, had prolonged success with black artists crossing over to white audiences, beginning with Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” in 1948. Fats Domino, the premier model for black crossover across the nation, was living proof that mass-market appeal was not strictly limited by color.

The differing outlooks of the Memphis and New Orleans crews relate to black and white interaction on the macro and micro level. From a wider geographical viewpoint, while white New Orleanians agreed in principle with the prevailing opposition to black and white interaction, they lived in a city with a long tradition of racial commingling and creolization.   It was not unusual for the musicians, producers and engineers at J&M to interact with whites or live side by side with interracial families.

In the more localized realm of J&M, the environment where the music that reached black and white listeners across the country was made, comfortable interracial interaction occurred every day. Unlike Sam Phillips, Cosimo Matassa was able to avoid the pitfalls of both the culture-broker and proprietor by maintaining a peer relationship with the black musicians in his studio based on commonality. Cosimo was fully engaged in every production at J&M, but in the end he operated a “room for hire” and was compensated at a similar level to the musicians he worked with. In this way, Cosimo acted as a midwife for the sessions more than an overseer, and his reputation among the musicians never suffered.

Chapter V

Working in the Coalmine:

Cosimo’s Attempts at Enterprise

and the Collapse of J&M

Cosimo’s stellar reputation among the New Orleans music community has remained intact in part because he could not be accused of taking advantage of the musicians he worked with. This was not, however, because of an overall philosophy of limiting his commercial ventures to sound engineering, for Cosimo made several attempts at expanding his business. In 1953, the members of the Zion City Harmonizers approached Cosimo about making a recording of their gospel quartet. The vocal group craze, led by The Ravens and The Orioles, was changing the face of rhythm & blues and New Orleans was missing out on the trend. Cosimo leaped at the opportunity, renaming the group The Spiders, arranging their recordings and buying uniforms and a station wagon for their American tour. “The Spiders were gospel singers. I converted those guys,” joked Cosimo. The group had hits with the songs “I Didn’t Want to Do It” and “Witchcraft,” but couldn’t follow up on their success, and internal conflict led to their disbanding in 1957.[cliv] “I got more involved with the Spiders than I should have,” said Cosimo in hindsight. “I spent a lot of time and money on them that in retrospect I should have put in the studio.”[clv]

A similar failure marked Cosimo’s management of the white teen idol Jimmy Clanton. After the success of Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and other white rock ‘n’ rollers, New Orleans began to produce some of its own attempts at white crossover. In 1957, when Baton Rouge rocker Jimmy Clanton walked through the doors of J&M, Cosimo acted quickly. “I signed a management contract with him, brought him and the band to town and made some records and had some success…. I spent a lot of time and money trying to develop his career.”[clvi] Jimmy Clanton’s “Just a Dream” made number four on Billboard’s pop chart in 1958, and he followed with several other hits and a star appearance in the Alan Freed movie Go Johnny Go. Cosimo took time off from the studio to accompany the singer on the road, but by the time Clanton was drafted in 1961, Cosimo had fallen out with the singer. The subject of Jimmy Clanton is one of the few that leaves his former manager visibly frustrated today:

The guy was cocky and arrogant which meant when he finally reached where he, as the lyrics to the song go, “get his act together and take it on the road,” he didn’t know how…. [H]is understanding of what his career needed was deficient as hell.[clvii]

After Jimmy Clanton, Cosimo left artist management behind.

In 1956, the continued success of J&M Studios allowed him to move into a larger space at 523-25 Governor Nicholls Street in the French Quarter. The acoustics of the room drastically improved the quality of the recordings, and by this time Cosimo had upgraded his equipment to include a larger mixing board and basic tools like echo and equalization units. It was at the Gov. Nicholls Street studio that New Orleans rhythm & blues hit its peak; starting in 1957 New Orleans-based artists accounted for over 20 Billboard rhythm & blues hits a year for five years straight and consistently crossed over onto the pop charts. In ’57 alone, Fats Domino charted ten times and Little Richard seven. [clviii] Following on the heels of the now well-established producers Dave Bartholomew and Bumps Blackwell came a new breed of young arrangers. Harold Battiste took over for Blackwell, who spent most of his time in Los Angeles, and the teenage pianist Allen Toussaint emerged from the shadows of the Studio Band to become the top songwriter and producer in the city.

Toussaint had been a regular at J&M under the tutelage of Professor Longhair, Huey “Piano” Smith and Fats Domino, often filling in when the more seasoned players were unavailable. His song “Java,” first appeared on a one-off solo record for RCA in 1958, and it later became a huge instrumental hit for New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt. Toussaint blazed into the 60s, arranging and writing for a new generation of New Orleans talent like Ernie K-Doe (“Mother in Law,” 1961), Irma Thomas (“It’s Raining,” 1962), Benny Spellman (“Fortune Teller,” 1962), Chris Kenner (“Land of 1,000 Dances,” 1962) and Lee Dorsey (“Working in the Coalmine,” 1966).

Toussaint also brought a new approach to music-making at J&M. The original Studio Band had essentially disbanded, with many members relocated to the West Coast, touring or playing live jazz and rhythm & blues in the clubs of New Orleans. A new breed of session men took over J&M, and under the baton of Toussaint they eschewed much of the improvisation and “head” charts that the earlier group was associated with and performed pre-written arrangements with composed parts that were expertly woven together. The highly orchestrated compositions, influenced by Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” and later The Beatles, led Cosimo to comment of Toussaint, “you could give him a feather and a wishbone and he’d build you a chicken.”[clix] Yet the recordings still managed to represent the freewheeling, lazy sway that marks much of New Orleans’ music, and songs such as Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” (1960) and Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya” (1961) fit squarely in the tradition of playful, carefree music-making.

The fresh sounds were brought to the public by a new flock of independent record companies, many of which were among the first successful rhythm & blues labels to be based in New Orleans. Toussaint was the staff A&R man for Joe Banashak’s Minit Records, Harold Battiste had AFO, Joe Ruffino ran the Ric and Ron labels, and Mac Rebennack produced for Johnny Vincent’s Ace Records out of Jackson, Mississippi. New Orleans, typically slow to catch on to the national trends, was finally feeding some record industry money back in to the local economy.

Cosimo was among the first to join the fray in the early 1960s with Rex Records. Having followed success in the jukebox and recording studio business with a troubling stint in artist management, Cosimo took a tentative leap into his fourth music-related field and emerged with mixed results. He was able to put together a top-notch roster of artists—Mac Rebennack, Chuck Carbo of the Spiders and Lee Dorsey—but with only a modest regional hit by guitarist Earl King (“Darling Honey Angel Child,” 1960), Cosimo turned the label over to Ace Records owner and distributor Johnny Vincent after approximately 20 releases.

In 1965, unaware that New Orleans was near the end of its great ride as a capitol of rhythm & blues, Cosimo again expanded, moving out of the French Quarter for the first time and into the business district, where he built Jazz City studios at 728 Camp Street. The recording space was only part of Cosimo’s new conglomerate, which included a publishing company and new label (Dover and then White Cliffs Records), and New Orleans’ first record manufacturing plant, Superior Plastics. While most local labels adhered to the industry status quo of offering their musicians nominal advances while hording substantial sums of money for themselves, Cosimo seems to have genuinely wanted to give something back to the music-makers, offering them much fairer contracts than most companies. “What I was trying to do was give guys a break. I was giving them 10% when the other guys were giving them 3% and cheating them, so I was doing what I thought was the right thing.”[clx]

If the short-lived record company was to be judged solely by its commercial success, it would receive high marks. Cosimo distributed two of the last great New Orleans rhythm & blues singles, Robert Parker’s “Barefootin'” in 1966 and Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is,” which sold approximately two million records in 1967. The company’s success caught the attention of major labels. “Somebody from CBS had offered me a deal where they would take a major interest in the company and distribute it. But that was in total opposition to what I thought I was trying to do which was build a New Orleans’ based company,” remembers Cosimo. Unfortunately, the fledgling label had too much of a good thing; with invoices from suppliers, artists and staff adding up, and not enough in return from regional distributors, Cosimo ran out of capital. The vinyl supplier for the manufacturing plant filed and won a lawsuit and seized all assets related to White Cliffs Records, Jazz City Studios and Superior Plastics. “It was meteoric in the true sense. It went up, straight up and it came down, straight down,” remembered Cosimo. “I look back on it and I can’t blame anybody but Cosimo.” [clxi] The IRS foreclosed on his Jazz City in 1968, and Cosimo’s 23-year run as the only real choice for recording in New Orleans came to a close.


No Regrets

One of the last groups to record at Cosimo’s studio was The Meters, originally the backing band for many of Allen Toussiant’s productions. Led by organist Art Neville, the instrumental band’s first recordings were their biggest, and in the spring of 1969 the single “Cissy Strut” put them on the national map. Their low-down gritty sound marked the arrival of a characteristically New Orleans strain of funk, a genre introduced by James Brown and others in the mid-60s. Around the same time, Dr. John was making waves in Los Angeles, mixing up funky New Orleans grooves and the emerging sounds of psychedelia, with Harold Battiste at the helm and a large band made up primarily of New Orleans transplants. When it came time for the pianist to return to his hometown and record a back-to-roots record of classic New Orleans material, Dr. John’s Gumbo (1972), he was booked at Allen Toussaint and recording impresario Marshall Sehorn’s new studio, SeaSaint. Toussaint had the facility built out of necessity after Cosimo had closed his doors. Though he served as an advisor and engineer at the fully modern studio, Cosimo was more of a contractor than an architect.

Cosimo Matassa’s downfall coincided with the end of New Orleans’ tenure as a stronghold for music-making. The British Invasion and arena rock bands that followed rewrote the rulebook for black musicians who were attempting to attract white audiences.   Detroit’s Motown Records and Stax in Memphis met success by usurping many of the ingredients in the “New Orleans Sound” to create a sweeter, more refined product. New Orleans struggled to adapt to the shifting demands of the public and would never again attain a primacy in the marketplace.

Cosimo Matassa eventually returned to the grocery business his father had started decades before. Though he still makes occasional forays into the music industry, he has for all intents and purposes been in semi-retirement from the business since his last days at Jazz City. Though Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Dave Bartholomew, Lloyd Price and Earl Palmer have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and many others continue to be recognized for their achievements, Cosimo is remembered most by those who worked with him and diehard fans of the music they made together. His sole institutional honor came on December 10, 1999, fifty years to the day of Fats Domino’s recording of “The Fat Man,” when the city of New Orleans named the original site of J&M Studios an official city landmark. The placque is placed beside the entryway where the original tile logo of J&M studios remains, directly below the neon sign for Hula Mae’s Tropic Wash.

In a conversation above his office in a back storeroom of Matassa’s deli, the same spot where he lived and worked as a child, there wasn’t the faintest hint of self-pity in Cosimo’s demeanor. “It’s been a wonderful life and I’ve met a lot of great people…. Let me tell you, if there’s one thing they can put on my tombstone, it’s “No Regrets.”[clxii]

Notes for pages 1-8


[i] The term “rhythm & blues” was officially adopted by Billboard magazine in 1949 to replace the “race music” label. In this study, “rhythm & blues” refers to the overall style (described on p.22) regardless of date.

[ii] Harold Battiste, interview by author, June 3, 2002, New Orleans, Tape #1, 1.

[iii] Jeff Hannusch, I Hear You Knockin’: The Sound of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues (Ville Platte, La.: Swallow Publications, 1985), 120.

[iv] Cosimo Matassa, int. by Jones, Dec. 21, 1999, Tape #1, 21.

Chapter I: “Black New Orleans Before and After World War II”

[v] For more information on pre-jazz music in New Orleans, see Henry Kmen, Music in New Orleans, The Formative Years, 1791-1841 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966).

[vi] Frederick Ramsey and Charles Edward Smith, eds. Jazzmen (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1939), 268-69.

[vii] Tad Jones, “Professor Longhair”, Living Blues, vol.26 (April 1976), 24 (based on a WTUL-FM interview from 1975).

[viii] Louis Cottrell, interview with Bill Russell, August 25, 1961, New Orleans: Hogan Jazz Archive, 11, 15.

[ix] Ken Hulsizer. “New Orleans In Wartime,” Jazz Review, (1945), 4-6.

[x] Jeff Hannusch, The Soul of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm and Blues (Ville Platte, La.: Swallow Publications, 2001), p.128 and Hannusch, (1985), 365.

[xi] John Broven, “I Really Get Tired of…”, Blues Unlimited, vol. 131-2, (Sep/Dec 1978), p.6, and Rick Coleman, Out of New Orleans: Fats Domino, liner notes to Bear Family Records CD box set, (1994) [no page numbers].

[xii] “Faubourg Treme: America’s Oldest Black Neighborhood,” The Soul of New Orleans: Official Multicultural Visitors Guide, 2003, p.18.

Notes for pages 9-14

[xiii] For the New Orleans press’ early reaction to jazz, see “Jazz and Jassism”, New Orleans Times Picayune, June 20, 1918. The continued reluctance of the New Orleans press to accept jazz was outlined in Charles Suhor, “Jazz and the New Orleans Press,” Downbeat, June 12, 1969, p.18.

[xiv] Salvador Doucette, interview by author, May 2, 2003, New Orleans, Tape #1, 9.

[xv] Ernest McLean, interview by author, May 2, 2003, New Orleans, Tape #1, 10.

[xvi] Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler, interview by Tad Jones, June 19, 1996, New Orleans, reel#2.

[xvii] Peter “Chuck” Badie Jr., interview by author, November 27, 2002, New Orleans, Tape #1, 1.

[xviii] Ernest McLean, interview by author via phone, November 15, 2002, Long Beach, CA, Tape #1, 4.

Chapter II: “Cosimo’s Universe: the Man Behind the New Orleans Sound”

[xix] Cosimo Matassa, interview by author, May 27, 2002, Tape #1, 1.

[xx] James Dormon, “Striving for Success,” A Better Life: Italian-Americans in South

Louisiana. New Orleans: American-Italian Federation, 1983.

[xxi] George Cunningham. “The Italian: A Hinderence to White Solidarity in Louisiana,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. L No.1, (1965), 25.

[xxii] Ibid., 30.

[xxiii] Guido Festinese. “Palermo-New Orleans, New Orleans-Palermo: un doppio cerchio nella storia del jazz,” in Contemporary Sicily, (1998), conference program, Roma-New York: Edizioni La Centrale dell’Arte, 24, quoted in Bruce Raeburn, “Stars of David and Sons of Sicily: Constellations Beyond the Canon in Early New Orleans Jazz,” unpublished, 2000.

[xxiv] Rick Kennedy. Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy, Indiana University Press, 1994, 73.

[xxv] Ernie Cagnolatti, interview by William Russell, Ralph Collins and Harold Dejan, April 5, 1961, New Orleans: Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, Tape #1.

[xxvi] Dominick James LaRocca, interview by Richard B. Allen, May 21, 1958, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, and Brunn, The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, (1960).

[xxvii] Raeburn, 2000, p.8.

Notes for pages 15-24

            [xxviii] Badie, Tape #1, 3.

[xxix] Jean A. Scarpaci, “A Tale of Selective Accomodation: Sicilians and Native Whites in Louisiana,” Journal of Ethnic Studies, Vol.5 no.3, (1977), 43.

[xxx] James Dormon. “Striving for Success,” A Better Life: Italian-American in South Louisiana, (New Orleans: American-Italian Federation, 1983), 24.

[xxxi] Cosimo Matassa, interview by Jack Stewart, September 7, 2002, New Orleans, Tape #1, 2, and Cosimo Matassa, interview by author, May 27, 2002, Tape #1, 1.

[xxxii] Cosimo Matassa, interview by Tad Jones, May 28, 1993, New Orleans, Reel #2, 16.

[xxxiii] Matassa, interview by author, May 27, 2002, Tape #1, 2.

[xxxiv] Matassa, interview by Jones, May 28, 1993, Reel #3, 2-3.

[xxxv] Matassa, interview by author, July 9, 2003, Tape #1, 3.

[xxxvi] Ibid., 10.

[xxxvii] Ibid., 9.

[xxxviii] See advertisement for J&M in The Negro South (April 1946), 46.

[xxxix] Matassa, interview by author, July 9, 2003, Tape #1, 15.

Chapter III: “Coming Together: New Orleans Rhythm & Blues”

[xl] Cosimo Matassa, interview by Jonathan Foose, Dec. 16, 1981, New Orleans, 1.

[xli] John Chilton, Let the Good Times Roll: the Story of Louis Jordan, (London: Quartet Books, 1992), p.144-5, and “Miles Davis: a Candid Conversation with the Jazz World’s Premier Iconoclast,” Playboy, (September 1962).

[xlii] Arnold Shaw, Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues, (New York: Macmillan, 1978), 62, 74.

[xliii] Tony Scherman, Backbeat: Earl Palmer’s Story, (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999), 88.

[xliv] Matassa, int. by Jones, July 17, 1993, Reel #2, 3

Notes for pages 25-35

[xlv] John Broven, “Roy Brown: Good Rockin Tonight”, Blues Unlimited, vol. 123, (Jan/Feb 1977), 7.

[xlvi] John Broven, Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans, (Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing, 1978), 22.

[xlvii] Hannusch, (1985), 71.

[xlviii] John Broven, “Roy Brown: Good Rockin Tonight”, Blues Unlimited, vol. 123, (Jan/Feb 1977), 7.

[xlix] Broven, (Sept/Dec 1978), 4.

[l] Vincent Fumar, “Amazing Dave Bartholomew,” The Times-Picayune, Aug. 5, 1978, Lagniappe p.3.

[li] Coleman, 1994.

[lii] Keith Spera, “The Music Makers (Dave Bartholomew & Fats Domino)”, The Times-Picayune, April 25, 1999, p.2.

[liii] For New Orleans rhythm & blues chart info, refer to Broven’s Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans, 228-237.

[liv] Shaw, 1978, p.68.

[lv] Booth and Escott in Coleman, (1994).

[lvi] Broven, (1978), 28, 31.

[lvii] Matassa, int. by author, May 27, 2003, Tape #1, 6.

[lviii] Tommy Ridgely, interview by Tad Jones, April 23, 1986, New Orleans, Reel #2.

[lix] Matassa, int. by Jones, July 17, 1993, Reel #2, 3.

[lx] Matassa, int. by Stewart, September 7, 2002, Tape #1, 7.

[lxi] Matassa, int. by Jones, Dec. 21, 1999, Tape #1, 4.

[lxii] Matassa, int. by author, May 27, 2003, Tape #1, 8.

[lxiii] Scherman, p.87.

Notes for pages 36-41

[lxiv] Broven, (1978), 13.

[lxv] Doucette, Tape #1, 5.

[lxvi] Fields.

[lxvii] Doucette, Tape #1, 10.

[lxviii] Ridgley, March 22, 1986, Tape #3, 1.

[lxix] “Grunewald School has Practical Music Course,” New Orleans Item, Jan. 25, 1951, 11.

[lxx] Tyler, Tape #2, 2.

[lxxi] Battiste, Tape #1, 5.

[lxxii] Keith Spera, “Noted Jazzman Red Tyler is Dead”, The Times-Picayune, April 5, 1998, Sec. B, 1.

[lxxiii] Scherman, p.89.

[lxxiv] Booth and Escott in Coleman, (1994).

[lxxv] Doucette, Tape #1, 7.

[lxxvi] Battiste, Tape #1, 6.

[lxxvii] John Broven, “Behind the Western Sun I: Earl Palmer,” Blues Unlimited, (Sept/Oct 1975), 7.

[lxxviii] Booth and Escott in Coleman, (1994) and Fumar, p.4.

[lxxix] McLean, May 2, 2003, Tape #1, 9.

[lxxx] Scherman, 89.

[lxxxi] Bill Greensmith and Bez Turner, “Fess (Professor Longhair)”, Blues Unlimited, (May/Aug 1978), 6.

[lxxxii] McLean, May 2, 2003, Tape #1, 8.

[lxxxiii] Hannusch, (1985), 101.

Notes for pages 42-49

[lxxxiv] Broven, (1978), 31.

[lxxxv] Matassa, int. by Foose, Dec. 16, 1981, 13.

[lxxxvi] Matassa, int. by author, May 27, 2003, Tape #1, 8.

[lxxxvii] Matassa, int. by Jones, December 21, 1999, Tape #1, 14.

[lxxxviii] Broven, (1978), 16.

[lxxxix] Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins, Good Rockin’ Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), 39.

[xc] Jim Cogan and William Clark, Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003), 18.

[xci] Matassa, int. by Jones, December 21, 1999, Tape #1, 8.

[xcii] Scott Aegis, “The Limelight at Last (Dave Bartholomew)”, The Times-Picayune, Jan. 16, 1991, Sec. E, p.2.

[xciii] Charlie Gillett, Making Tracks: Atlantic Records and the Growth of a Multi-Billion-Dollar Industry, (London: W.H. Allen, 1975), 50.

[xciv] Shaw, (1978), 185.

[xcv] Matassa, int. by Jones, December 21, 1999, Tape #1, p.15, and Matassa, int. by Foose, 13, 15.

Chapter IV: “In the Studio: Music-Making and Race Relations at J&M”

[xcvi] Example taken from Antoon Aukes, Second Line: 100 Years of New Orleans Drumming, (Oskaloosa, Iowa: C.L. Barnhouse Company, 2003), 19.

[xcvii] Broven, (1978), 32.

[xcviii] Marcel Joly, “Frank Parker: Beating My Way Through the World,” Footnote, vol.15 no.1, (Oct/Nov 1983), 17.

[xcix] Booth and Escott in Coleman, (1994).

[c] Example given is “Lucille,” by Little Richard (1956), with Earl Palmer on drums.

Notes for pages 50-57

[ci] Rick Coleman, “Little Richard, The New Orleans Connection”, Wavelength, No.49, (Nov. 1984), 23.

[cii] Charles White, The Life and Times of Little Richard: the Quasar of Rock, (New York: Harmony Books, 1984), 49.

[ciii] Scherman, 89.

[civ] Ibid., 89.

[cv] Rick Coleman, Little Richard: the Specialty Sessions, liner notes to Specialty Records CD box set, (1990), [no page numbers].

[cvi] Example taken from Aukes (2003), 3.

[cvii] Coleman, (1994), and Debra DeSalvo, “Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler Interview”, Blues Revue, (Mar/Apr 1995), 32.

[cviii] Earl Palmer, From R&B to Funk [videorecording], directed by Stevenson J. Palfi, (Miami, FL: DCI Music Video, 1993).

[cix] Matassa, int. by author, July 9, 2003, Tape #1, 2.

[cx] Joly, 17.

[cxi] Norbert Hess, “Shirley Goodman,” Blues Unlimited, vol.130, (May/Aug. 1978), 14.

[cxii] Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) with Jack Rummel,Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of Dr. John, the Night Tripper, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 72.

[cxiii] Shaw, 1978, p.85 and Chilton, (1992), 41.

[cxiv] Broven, 1978, p.88

[cxv] Herbert Hardesty, interview by Barry Martyn, June 27, 2001, Las Vegas,

Tape #1, p.4.

[cxvi] Hannusch, (1985), 214.

[cxvii] Shaw, (1978), 184.

[cxviii] Hannusch, (2001), 42.

Notes for pages 57-65

[cxix] Hardesty, Tape #1, 5.

[cxx] Lillian Hardin Armstrong, interview by Bill Russell, July 1, 1959, New Orleans: Hogan Jazz Archive, Reel #1, 4.

[cxxi] Battiste, Tape #1, 3.

[cxxii] Heywood Hale Broun, “Down in New Orleans”, HRS Society Rag, (Sept. 1940), 13.

[cxxiii] Matassa, int. by Stewart, September 7, 2002, Tape #1, p.10, and Matassa, int. by Jones, December 21, 1999, Tape #1, 11.

[cxxiv] The shifting of formats in commercial radio can be traced in the daily radio schedules of the Time-Picayune.

[cxxv] Hannusch, (1985), 120.

[cxxvi] Matassa, int. by Jones, Dec. 21, 1999, Reel #1, 10.

[cxxvii] Hannusch, (1985), 111 and Ridgley, April 23, 1986, Reel #2, 12.

[cxxviii] Matatssa, int. by author, May 27, 2003, Tape #1, 12.

[cxxix] Doucette, Tape #1, 9.

[cxxx] Battiste, Tape #1, 2.

[cxxxi] Scherman, 99-100.

[cxxxii] Matassa, int. by Jones, December 21, 1999, Tape #1, 19.

[cxxxiii] Todd Mouton, “BackTalk with Cosimo Matassa”, Offbeat, (August 1997), 63 and Scherman, 84.

[cxxxiv] McLean, May 2, 2003, Tape #1, 10.

[cxxxv] Ibid., 3.

[cxxxvi] Matassa, int. by author, July 9, 2003, Tape#1, 3.

[cxxxvii] Ibid., 7.

[cxxxviii] Booth and Escott in Coleman, (1994).

Notes for pages 66-73

[cxxxix] Sam Phillips, interview by Nick Spitzer for the public radio program American Routes, Feb. 19, 2002, Tape #1, 6.

[cxl] Ibid., 6.

[cxli] Liz Scott, “Cosimo’s Universe”, New Orleans Magazine, (Apr. 1993), 93 and Matassa, int. by Jones, January 15, 1994, Tape #2, 9.

[cxlii] Escott and Hawkins, 156.

[cxliii] Broven, (1978), 87-88 and Matassa, int. by Jones, May 28, 1993, Reel #5, 4.

[cxliv] Matassa, int. by Jones, May 28, 1993, Tape #2, 15.

[cxlv] Escott and Hawkins, ii.

[cxlvi] Phillips, Tape #1, 6.

[cxlvii] Mouton, p.63 and Matassa, int. by Foose, Dec. 16, 1981, 13, 15.

[cxlviii] Broven, (1978), 86.

[cxlix] For examples of the accepted history of early rock ‘n’ roll, see Charlie Gillett, Gillett, The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, (New York: Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, 1970) and Robert Palmer, Rock & Roll: an Unruly History, (New York : Harmony Books, 1995).

[cl] Robert Palmer, A Tale of Two Cities: Memphis Rock and New Orleans Roll, (Brooklyn: Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, 1979).

[cli] New Orleans journalist Rick Coleman has been able to conduct extensive oral histories with the reclusive Domino and his biography, when completed, will surely be of great interest to researchers of rhythm & blues.

[clii] Glenn C. Altschuler, All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America, (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 34-38.

[cliii] For detailed analyses of the conservative reaction to rock ‘n’ roll, see Michael Ventura, “Long Black Snake Moan,” Shadow Dancing in the U.S.A., (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1985), Linda Martin and Kerry Sergrave, Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock ‘n’ Roll, (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1988), and Glenn C. Altschuler, (2003).

Chapter V: “Working in the Coalmine”

[cliv] Matassa, int. by author, May 27, 2003, Tape #1, p14.

Notes page 74-79

[clv] Hannusch, (2001), 66.

[clvi] Matassa, int. by author, May 27, 2003, Tape #1, p.12 and Hannusch, (1985), 114.

[clvii] Ibid., 12.

[clviii] Broven, (1978), 228-237.

[clix] Matassa, int. by author, May 27, 2003, Tape #1, 9.

[clx] Matassa, int. by Stewart, September 7, 2002, Tape #1, 10-11.

[clxi] Mattassa, int. by Foose, Dec. 16, 1981, 7.

[clxi] Matassa, int. by author, July 9, 2003, Tape #1, 5.


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            Matthew Sakakeeny was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1971 and received his Bachelor of Music from Peabody Conservatory in 1994. He moved to New Orleans in 1997 as co-producer for the public radio program American Routes, a job he continues today. After enrolling at Tulane University in 2001, he received his Master of Arts in Musicology in 2004, and is currently attending Columbia University for a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology.