Clip | Fats Domino and The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll - New Orleans as Music Mecca

Fats Domino, born and raised in New Orleans, was surrounded by music as a child. “New Orleans produces a disproportionately large amount of talented musicians and it really comes up with the raw material,” says pianist Jon Cleary in Fats Domino and The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Earl Palmer, longtime drummer for Fats Domino, Little Richard, and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, adds this about his native city New Orleans: “It’s the only place in the world where everybody, even white listeners, clap on 2 and 4, instead of the 1 and 3…. Well, look at the history of the town, it’s always been music. You’re born with a lot of it instilled in you.”

When Fats Domino’s song “The Fat Man” rose to number one in the February 1950 on the R&B charts, Imperial Record Company owner Lew Chudd’s bet on the new artist had paid off. Chudd booked Fats with Dave Bartholomew and his band for additional sessions at Cosimo Matassa’s Rampart street studio. Matassa’s J&M music shop was the only recording studio in New Orleans and was quickly becoming the mecca for record men looking to cash in on the New Orleans rhythm and blues sound. Songwriter and bandleader Dave Bartholomew’s group became the house band backing nearly every performance recorded there.

“Cosimo Matassa and Dave Bartholomew put New Orleans on the map,” says Allen Toussaint, another great pianist (jazz) from New Orleans.

“You can call it the big beat, the sweet beat, whatever it is but New Orleans got the beat,” says Dave Bartholomew.”

This excerpt from Fats Domino and The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll includes images from Cosimo Matassa’s famous recording studio, and an interview with Matassa on how he worked.

Transcript Print

-NARRATOR: With 'The Fat Man' rising to number one in the February 1950 rhythm and blues charts, Lew Chudd's hunch had paid off.

He quickly reassembled Fats with Dave Bartholomew and band for additional sessions at Cosimo Matassa's Rampart Street studio.

Cosimo's J&M Music Shop was the only recording studio in town and was quickly becoming the Mecca for record men looking to cash in on the New Orleans rhythm and blues sound.

And Dave Bartholomew's little orchestra became the house band backing nearly every performance recorded there.

-New Orleans produces a disproportionately large amount of talented musicians.

And it really comes up with the raw material.

-MAN: It's the only place in the world where everybody, even white listeners, clap on two and four instead of one and three.

Right away, you can tell if a white dude's from New Orleans, man, when you hear him clap.

He's on the beat.

And that's -- that's kind of, uh, a -- a natural thing with New Orleans people.

You got kids in the street, man... It's a lot of talent, musically, if you stand on a certain way.

Well, look at the history of the town.

There's always been music.

That's maybe why you're born with a lot of it instilled in you.

-You can call it the big beat, the sweet beat whatever it is.

But New Orleans got the beat.

-There have always been gigs in New Orleans.

There's only really a few periods in the history of New Orleans in the 20th century where there's been a really thriving recording scene.

And, um, the fact that there was is largely due to Dave Bartholomew and Cosimo Matassa.

♪♪ -TOUSSAINT: Cosimo Matassa and Dave Bartholomew put New Orleans on the map.

-The room was 15-by-16.

I started recording direct to disk, which, uh, had a couple of good features about it.

For one thing, you didn't do any editing.

You didn't do any pickups. You didn't do any overdubbing.

You played the damn thing from beginning to end.

And -- and that made for performance.

And I think that helped me.

I started on the fact that everybody performed together beginning to end.

Had to be right.

I always, 'til today, thought that my job was to put on disk what was happening out in the studio.