A fan has sent us the following piece, and we thought it would be a great tribute to post it here and share it. It’s a well-researched history of New Orleans music…from the “corner of Rampart and Dumaine.” –Gumbo le Funque
Goodbye to an Era
by Doug Egan
Cosimo Matassa has died. Many of you I’m emailing this to will know who he was, some won’t. This article will give a lot of information:
Many people associate the birth of Rock ‘n Roll with Sam Phillips, Memphis, and Elvis. But Elvis’ 1st recording came 6 YEARS after this recording down the river in New Orleans:
(Elvis later covered this early in his career)
And 4 YEARS after this one:
Which was a re-working of the ‘Junker’s Blues’ (about drugs) by Champion Jack Dupree:
Cosimo was truly the architect (along with Dave Bartholomew and Allen Toussaint) of a ‘golden period’ in early Rock n Roll: the New Orleans R&B era, which coincided with several other national trends, and lasted all the way until the Beatles overthrew everything. He was also a very low-key and humble man, and spent many years after retiring from recording running his small (and I mean 50×20 feet!) French Quarter grocery, accessible and friendly. His son still runs the grocery.
New Orleans rock was happy rock: nothing dark, bitter, or angry. It was fun, light, and often with a wicked sense of humor. It reflected the city: Laissez les bon temps roulez! It of course had a great beat, and accented drums, horns and pianos, since those were the instruments New Orleans had grown up with since jazz was invented there at the turn of the last century. Guitars were in faint evidence if heard at all.
But it was great music. Thank you, Cosimo, and thank you all the rest that put this music together. (Thank you also to Sam Phillips, because it was both Memphis AND New Orleans that ultimately gave birth to R&R) Here’s a lot of samples from Cosimo’s recordings, with pictures following (no particular chronological order):
Next to Elvis and the Beatles, there was probably no bigger shot across the bow of mainstream comfortable music than this guy, recorded by Cosimo in 1955:
This clip has Richard lip-synching to Cosimo’s studio recordings. Look at the number or horns – the poor guitar player is cowering somewhere in the back! The big dancer in the second part has got to be from New Orleans. Alan Freed is announcing, and one shot shows Bill Haley (pale wanna be) sitting in the audience. Richard was from Macon, GA, but recorded his hits at Cosimo’s.
(Bonus history: Richard reportedly basically ripped off the persona and sound of another ‘Southern Flower’ who called him/herself Esquirita, who predated Richard, but didn’t record until after Richard got popular): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imZyUcZjc0s (not from Cosimo’s)
Back to Cosimos’s, here’s another side in keeping with the fun spirit of Cosimo and New Orleans (it’s a shame youtube is now so successful that there are ads before most clips. Most ads have a button that will allow you to skip them after 2-3 seconds):
(Laissez les bon temps roulez = Let the Good Times Roll)
New Orleanians can’t be philosophical without a sense of humor, because, after all, that’s really the right attitude, isn’t it? Here’s Dave Bartholomew (Fats Domino’s producer and song-writer):
Here’s NO’s sweetheart, Irma Thomas. She started singing at 13 years old, and here she is at the ripe old age of 19 in Cosimo’s studio:
Here’s a couple of more fun ones by Lee Dorsey, written by Allen Toussaint, who had a knack for funny, catchy tunes:
And the great Ernie K-Doe (Toussaint was on quite a roll at this point):
Wow. Too many to comment on. Depending on your tolerance and interest, here’s a bunch more that came out of the little bedroom size are (15×16 feet?) that was Cosimo’s studio. How many do you remember?:
The intro to the following song was done by Huey “Piano” Smith, who used the same intro on several of his own songs:
Huey “Piano” Smith’s band was called the Clowns, and apparently lived up to their name with fun, wild shows. Their main singer for several years was Bobby Marchan, who also worked as a female impersonator at the original Dew Drop Inn: http://www.knowla.org/entry/1465/ (The building and sign still stand in New Orleans)
(If you’re REALLY into obscurity, here’s Bobby Marchan’s biggest hit on his own; it has some great spoken-word interludes, and became a local classic):
Back to more mainstream stuff:
Here’s one that was written and recorded by Huey Smith – he was really surprised and pissed when a white producer stripped his vocals off, and added his white protegee’s vocals on top of the music. It was a hit, probably would have been a hit for Huey also:
Frankie Ford’s real name was Francis Guzzo; obviously too ethnic for mainstream Waspy America. (At times, it seems that almost half of New Orleans is of Sicilian heritage; Cosmo was)
The grandfather of funky New Orleans keyboards (biggest influence on Dr. John, etc) was Professor Longhair. He was ‘retired’ and sweeping floors when he was rediscovered by Quint Davis (founder of the mighty, might Jazzfest – which has been jamming since the year after Woodstock), and made a ‘star’ again. His original sides at Cosimo’s were obscure and not very well known, at least nationally. Interestingly, several of his original sides are now being used in Subaru commercials (!). Wow, everything IS connected! Here’s a couple of the old sides from Cosimo’s:
OK, on this one, you can look up the original ‘Big Chief’ on youtube. Here’s a rare clip of Professor Longhair (in cap), Dr. John (in his ‘Nite Tripper’ days), Earl King (who sang the original with Professor Longhair) and the original Meters doing that fun and funky Nawlins thing (this is also one of the Subaru songs):
Aww, I can’t resist, here’s his best known song, Tipitina, performed live again with the same lineup:
OMG, this shit goes straight to my soul, and it won’t leave.
If you want Cosmos’s version, here it is:
My favorite Mardi Gras song is by the Hawkette’s, recorded in 1954 with Art Neville (of future Neville Brothers) on vocals:
Here is his brother Aaron’s big hit from 1966:
OK, in no particular order, REALLY without comments this time, here’s a few more for your listening pleasure – welcome back to a particular place and time:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_ArDnZrmi0 (Rolling Stones covered this almost note for note shortly after Irma)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uwz9NcdAhUA (Chris Kenner was an alcoholic who died early, but who wrote tons of great songs, many of which were ‘cleaned up’ by Allen Toussaint. This is the original of this well-known song, his intro comes from the gospel song ‘Children, Go Where I Send Thee’. Apparently God is sending his children to the Land of 1,000 Dances)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wNSHPQj0W8 Here’s the only non-Cosmo link in the email, this was recorded in New York, and is a 1965 version by the Dixie Cups (“Going to the Chapel”) of a 1953 song, “Jockamo” by Sugar Boy Crawford. One of the first songs to attempt a commercial success with what were basically street/folk songs from the Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans. It’s just such a part of New Orleans culture I had to include it.
Back to Cosmo:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3KbVC8SYZw (changed from One Night of sin to One Night With You by Elvis)
(Frankie Ford again ‘borrowed’ a Huey Smith song, but changed the subject female from Loberta to Roberta. White girls weren’t named Loberta. Later covered wonderfully by the Animals with Eric Burden) Great piano stomp.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qhxE5z9xRI lots of folks down South came from the gospel shouting tradition. (including Ray Charles, who actually recorded his first sides ever at Cosimo’s, but didn’t produce hits until he moved to Atlantic)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNGUw1hzsi0 back to gospel shouter Chris, I wonder what it could be?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYl-OTIXluo For the musicians out there, one of the big structural tags of much New Orleans music is going from the I to the V, kind of puts things in a pocket.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIeY7J9kjg0 There’s Huey Smith with that distinctive intro AGAIN! Man, he got some miles out of that old junker!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm3vxkTUo-s Another version of a classic. I love this version because of the piano. Archibald, in addition, to Professor Longhair, was a big influence on Dr. John, and Dr. John covered this exactly on his first ‘NO R&B’ album, “Gumbo” when he moved away from his voo-doo Nite Tripper phase.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNZFbgszrVY Got to hear Irma sing this at Jazzfest a few years ago when the rain was just starting during this song. A Peak Experience.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBeew18OmfU Ernie K-Doe was probably the most colorful of the gang here, and in later years he began calling himself ‘The Emperor of The Universe’, and hosted a show on WWOZ, the great indigenous public radio station in NO, where you can hear good stuff all the time on the internet or
Tunein Radio app. http://www.wwoz.org/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht-IVjsOTcE “We fell in love on a Wednesday morning, with all of our heart and soul.” Classic Toussaint, classic Cosimo, classic NO golden age R&B.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IywoiaxtJHE I-V again, awesome and classic progression. Had to have one more K-Doe here. Here’s a later live version, with an unassociated picture that shows him in his ‘Emperor of the Universe’ mode. He loved to refer to himself in the 3rd person. His slogan was “I’m cocky, but I’m good”, and he sold merchandise that said “Burn, K-Doe, Burn!!”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej2k_3pquWI Nice humorous twist ending, classic Toussaint. To see just how cool and driving NO R&B was in this period, here’s an example I stumbled on by accident from the same period:
Ok, let’s wind it up with Richard, Fats, and Irma:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yns1cP6KiHA (why doesn’t music sound like this anymore – whatever happened to handclaps?)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mM4Xm4NwN7U (nice pics from old New Orleans)
Couldn’t find the original Cosmo version of this song, but here’s a somewhat poor video quality Irma with Allen Toussaint playing piano: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kky3BPNG7Jg&list=PLnO0NUz4HIVFypcLBD7_LoN9YYXL2GssX This was originally recorded early in her career at Cosimo’s.
Just to show that classics have that term for a reason, here’s a more up to date version:
Except for the fact that she’s in her underwear, she does a pretty decent version. I guess that’s the modern world.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cD8RGeXQeoA (this is not Cosmo, but I’m sure he would approve. It’s from a wonderful and touching fundraising concert that was put together only a couple of months after Katrina when the city lay in ruins, and most musicians had lost everything. This is an old Bessie Smith song about a Louisiana flood in 1927, but it can’t be more appropriate here. Buckwheat Zydeco is playing the accordion. This was a very emotional moment, and Irma is seen walking off the stage in tears. It’s hard to imagine how fresh and horrible things were at that time.)
Lastly, because music and life are about dreams and hopes, reality and disappointment, humor and pathos, let’s end with another non-Cosmo track from a gentleman that originally recorded at Cosimo’s. Earl King wrote such fun and funky numbers as Big Chief and Trick Bag, but here’s a pleasant and meditative song to sail into the sunset with:
Namaste to all, and especially Cosimo Matassa and all of the great New Orleans players that have made my own life just a little bit better.
Here’s our version of some tunes made famous by people who have stopped into the corner of Rampart and Dumaine, to work with Cosimo.