There is a laundry at the corner of Dumaine and North Rampart streets today. But long before this French Quarter address was about wash and fold it was all about rock ‘n’ roll. It was home to J&M Recording Studio, and here some of the most important names in early rock ‘n’ roll cut records that helped define a new sound.
Although the building where all this history happened may be obscure today, the man who served as maestro for much of that work is finally getting his due. The legendary New Orleans recording engineer Cosimo Matassa, founder of J&M, is among the 2012 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
A New Orleans native, Matassa opened J&M when he was just 20. It was originally a record shop, and though its studio was equipped with only rudimentary recording gear it became a hub for local musicians. Music historian Jeff Hannusch has written that “(v)irtually every R&B record made in New Orleans between the late ’40s and early ’70s was engineered by Cosimo Matassa.”
Matassa was working with these musicians as they made the transition from R&B to rock.
“I always tried to capture the dynamics of a live performance,” Matassa said in a Hall of Fame interview. “These guys were doing these songs on their gigs and that was the sound that I was trying to get. We didn’t have any gimmicks – no overdubbing, no reverb – nothing. Those guys played with a lot of excitement; and I felt if I couldn’t put it in the groove, people weren’t going to move.”
The early hits he recorded include Fats Domino’s 1949 debut, “The Fat Man,” Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.” Matassa would work with a “who’s who” of rock and R&B until he retired in the 1980s.
In 2007 Matassa received a special Grammy Trustees Award and in 2010 the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame designated his former studio as one of 11 official rock ‘n’ roll landmarks nationwide. Still, Matassa’s fans have long campaigned for his inclusion in the highest honor in the field. He will formally be inducted at a ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Cleveland this April.