By Phill Marder
“A former jukebox operator named Cosimo Matassa ran the only recording studio in the city, an ill-equipped hole-in-the-wall in which he recorded virtually the entire post-war history of New Orleans R&B.”
That “ill-equipped hole-in-the-wall,” so aptly described by Rob Finnis in his liner notes for the “Go Jimmy Go – The Very Best Of Jimmy Clanton” CD, was J&M Studios located at the corner of N. Rampart and Dumaine streets in New Orleans. The studio, using the initials of the 18-year-old Cosimo’s father, John, was honored recently by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which designated the site where the studio stood as one of Rock & Roll’s historic landmarks.
Historic indeed, for while Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in Memphis is known as “The Birthplace of Rock & Roll,” its Southern neighbor, though less-heralded and certainly less familiar to most, was its equal if not superior in churning out hit records during Rock & Roll’s growing pains, though it needed several changes of location to keep up.
What was recorded at the locations carrying the J&M logo is simply mind-boggling. A few examples include: Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” recorded in 1947 and thought by many to be the first true Rock & Roll record and covered most successfully by Elvis, among others; Brown’s 1949 gem “Rockin’ At Midnight,” made a hit much later by Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers; Fats Domino’s 1949 disc “The Fat Man,” another thought by some to be Rock’s first record; and Lloyd Price’s 1952 “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” also in the conversation when discussing the first Rock record. Domino added a slew of hits as did Little Richard and Sam Cooke and Jerry Lee Lewis stopped by to pick up recording experience.
All this in a studio measuring 15×16 with a control room described by Matassa as “as big as my four fingers.”
Finnis continued, “The primitive conditions of Matassa’s studio matched the quaint charm of the old city itself. There were no echo facilities and tapes were cut dry (no echo) and flat (no EQ) and because of the acoustic padding and small room size, the sound produced within the studio was characteristically very ‘dead’ … However, echo was often added to Matassa’s tapes later by the companies concerned.”
Eventually, Matassa, seeking more space, moved to 523 Governor Nicholls Avenue, but soon moved next door to the bigger 525 address where the studio became the “Cosimo Recording Studio.”
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame landmark sites also include the Whisky-a-Go-Go, the nightclub in Los Angeles made nationally famous when Johnny Rivers recorded several live albums there, Cincinnati’s King Records and the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper made their final appearance before their ill-fated flight.
For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store:
• Buy the brand new edition of “Goldmine Standard Catalog of American Records 1948-1991, 7th Edition”