An Italian-American and New Orleans native, Matassa's father John emigrated from Sicily in 1910. In 1924, Matassa opened a small grocery store at the corner of Dauphine and St. Philip Streets, which remains a fixture in the French Quarter. Young Cosimo grew up working in the grocery store and after graduating from McDonogh 15 and Warren Easton High School, he enrolled in Tulane University's chemistry program, but dropped out after about two years.Later the studio moved to a slightly larger space on Gov. Nichols Street. Here's some of what Matassa recorded.
"When I finally realized what a chemist was, I decided not to be one," he once said, according to the LEH profile. Since he was ineligible to be drafted into the military for physical reasons, his father gave him a choice: go back to school or start working.
He started working, but not in the grocery business. In addition to the market, John Matassa and his partner also ran J&M Amusement Services, placing jukeboxes in bars and restaurants. Cosimo began selling used records from the jukeboxes, and after noting the interest from customers in buying records, in 1945, he bought recording equipment and converted a room in the back of the family's J&M Appliance Store & Record Shop into a "studio."
The room was only 15-by-16 feet in size, with a control room "as big as my four fingers," joked Matassa in a story to mark his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the early years, Matassa recorded direct to disc until he could afford a tape-recording system. At first the equipment was used by amateurs to make personal recordings or demos. Soon, the dearth of recording studios in town led professional musicians and record producers to J&M.
The list of other songs recorded by Matassa at his studio is another testament to his importance in music history. In addition to dozens of Domino's hits, the seminal recordings "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," "Mardi Gras in New Orleans," "Tipitina," "I Hear You Knocking," and "Long Tall Sally" were all recorded by Matassa. Three recordings identified by some as the first rock 'n' roll records were also his work: Domino's "The Fat Man," Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight" and Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti." Other local and national R&B hits recorded by Matassa included Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is," Frankie Ford's "Sea Cruise," K-Doe's "Mother-In-Law" and Robert Parker's "Barefootin'" as well as Art Neville and the Hawketts' "Mardi Gras Mambo," Clarence "Frogman" Henry's "Ain't Got No Home," Al Johnson's "Carnival Time," Shirley and Lee's "Let the Good Times Roll" and many other landmark 1960s recordings by Irma Thomas, Lee Dorsey, Benny Spellman and Chris Kenner.Cosimo Matassa passed away today. He was 88. Please read the rest of that WWLTV article. What stands out the most is Matassa's humility.
"I don't want to come across with false modesty, but I always want people to remember that I didn't play. The musicians played. It was my studio and I did what I could to concoct what I could," he told WWL-TV anchor Eric Paulsen in a 2007 interview. "A record is a performance frozen in time, so I was looking for good performances and trying to put performers on record, and happily the guys out in the studio performed."More from Gambit
"All through my career, the one thing I tried to do was be transparent. I heard them in the nightclubs, and just wanted to stay true to the original, to get what they did on record. I didn't try to shape it — I just did my damnedest not to mess it up."More like those to come, no doubt. Here's one more from The Advocate.
In Matassa’s opinion, Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” recorded at Matassa’s studio in 1947, was the first rock ’n’ roll record. “It was the first one that had a wider appeal than just a straight R&B record,” Matassa said told The Advocate in 2001. “It was more like a shouting, big-band blues kind of thing than what we now think of as R&B or rock ’n roll, but it had all of the elements.”