There are a lot of folks–an alarming number of them quite influential–who prefer to believe that “rock ‘n’ roll” was really a form of magic. That it simply “appeared” out of the ether somewhere in the American South and, as Ishmael Reed once sardonically put it: “Jes’ grew.”
Rock ‘n’ roll did not appear by magic. Like all of human history, whether for good or evil, whether transcendent or mundane, it was made exclusively by people. Mostly by very talented and ambitious people.
Not one of whom was more significant than the New Orleans record man Cosimo Matassa, who just passed away at the age of 88.
If rock ‘n’ roll–as both a distinctive sound and a challenge to the reigning cultural hegemony–was “born” anywhere, it was in his J&M Studio on Rampart Street. I’d pick Dec. 10, 1949, the date of Fats Domino’s first session (out of which came “The Fat Man,”) as the delivery date.
But if you wanted to slide back a little, to Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” (1947), or move forward a bit to Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (1952) or Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” (1955), you still wouldn’t be wrong.
As the effective mentor of both Dave Bartholomew (pictured with Fats below) and Allen Toussaint–probably two of the top half dozen “record men” in the history of the music–the breadth and depth of Matassa’s influence was as least as sizable as those of far more famous men like Sam Phillips or the Chess brothers. Thankfully, he was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 (decades after he should have been…but at least he didn’t have to die first–we know that tune).
A much fuller account of the man’s achievements (and the genuine love that he–unlike almost every other hard-headed business man of that raucous era–inspired among the musicians who recorded for him) can be found here.
For those interested in knowing more, I’d also recommend Rick Coleman’s fine biography of Fats Domino and the very reasonably priced collections of Matassa’s music that were put out by Proper Records a few years back.
Not to mention, you know, “The Fat Man,” and “Tutti Frutti!” (both of which I highlighted in my recent vocal histories of 50’s R&B so, this being the kind of serendipity I could do without, I won’t link them here.)
(And thanks to Rock and Rap Confidential for the heads up and the link!)