Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cosimo's Studio

J&M Recording Studio named
Rock and Roll Landmark

It was here, in a small backroom at 840 N. Rampart St., that Cosimo Matassa engineered and produced some of rock ’n’ roll’s earliest hits. While the building houses a laundromat today, more than 60 years ago, it was an appliance store with a recording studio in the back. It was also the place where, in 1949, Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew recorded the song “The Fat Man," which many say gave birth to the rock and roll era.

A few other J&M recordings, including Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin Tonight” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” have sometimes been called the first rock’n’roll record.

More than one musician has made sly references to the corner. In Professor Longhair’s “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” recorded in 1949 at J&M, Rampart and Dumaine is the place he’s going to stand “until he sees the Zulu Queen.”

Matassa, now 84, opened the Rampart Street studio in 1945 after he dropped out of the chemistry program at Tulane University. Inside the legendary studio — which measured 15 feet by 16 feet with a control room that he said was “as big as my four fingers” — Matassa recorded a storied list of acts. They included Domino and his longtime collaborator, trumpeter and producer Dave Bartholomew, saxophonist and producer Harold Battiste, Ray Charles, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Roy Brown, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis, Professor Longhair, Earl Palmer, Dr. John, James Booker, Guitar Slim, Smiley Lewis, Little Richard ,Lloyd Price and many others.

During those years, his focus was on the music and recording, never on the business side. Like many of the musicians he recorded, he ended up with meager financial reward.

Cosimo retired from the music business in the 1980s to manage the family's renowned food store Matassa's Market in the French Quarter.