Thursday, March 15, 2012

March 15: Cosimo Matassa

As the decades have passed, there is no question that one of the most consistent injustices within the world of music lives within the fact that so many of the most important figures to the development of all styles of music have been largely forgotten or overshadowed.  While the acts with whom they were associated with have certainly been given their due over the years, one can list off a massive number of names that are unknown to a majority of the world, and yet it is due to their vision and talents that music has become what it is today.  When it comes to label owners and producers, many cite the most "important" figures being those who emerged in the end of the 1950's and throughout the 1960's and yet there were a few equally, if not more important individuals who occupied similar roles in the preceding decades.  Having begun his work within the music industry when he was still a teenager, making a name for himself within the New Orleans scene of the mid-1940's, there are few figures more vital to the progression of a number of different genres than Cosimo Matassa.  Whether it was rock and roll, soul music, r&b, or even in the worlds of jazz and blues, Matassa touched nearly every genre that one can think of, and it is due to his presence, as well as the "space" he gave artists to create that makes Cosimo Matassa such an important part of music history.

While most of the "big names" in the world of music, especially on the "non-musical" side of things do not reach their full potential until they are well into their twenties, Cosimo Matassa opened his own recording studio, J &M Recording Studio, in 1945 when he was only eighteen years old.  He operated this out of the back of his family store in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and worked there for the better part of a decade, before moving to the much larger space he simply called Cosimo Recording Studios.  However, it was in the first of these spaces where Matassa took part in the recording one of the most legendary songs in history, the 1949 recording of Fats Domino's song, "The Fat Man," which many argue as the "first" rock and roll record.  Following the success of the single, Matassa moved to the larger studio, and in the latter place he would help another up-and-coming artist record an equally iconic track in the from of Little Richard's, "Tutti Frutti."  Along with these two unforgettable songs, Matassa worked with artists ranging from Ray Charles to Dr. John to Lee Dorsey throughout his career, and many cite his work as the blueprint for what is now seen as the "New Orleans" sound.  There is unquestionably a distinctive tone and vitality to each song on which he worked, and that in itself is a testament to the unique stills of Cosimo Matassa.

The fact that the recordings on which Matassa had such a stronger drum presence, as well as heavier sounds form the guitars and the inclusion of horns, pianos, and other instruments closely related with the New Orleans music scene is what instantly set it apart from the rest of the popular music of the era, and this approach would be fused into nearly every other genre of music.  On a number of the songs he produced, one can also find a more aggressive and louder vocal presence, and this too is an integral part of what is now seen as the "New Orleans" approach to rock music.  One can find massive influences from this approach in all of the "big" hits of the 1960's, and yet few people realize where the true roots of such musical techniques had arisen.  It is due to this reality that one can easily argue that Cosimo Matassa stands as one of, if not the most overlooked producer and musical visionary of his generation, as there is no question that nearly every form of music would have failed to progress without his work.  Decades later, his overall importance would begin to be noted, as the original J & M Recording Studios was made a historic landmark in 1999, and finally, in 2012, Matassa was set to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Easily on par with any other producer or originator in history, there has simply never been another individual who shaped music quite like Cosimo Matassa.

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