After dropping out of Tulane University when he decided he didn’t really want to be a chemist, Matassa opened a store in New Orleans planning to sell appliances. As a side business, he sold used records — his father was in the jukebox business. They sold so well that he then brought in new records, and then realized that there was no place in town to record music, so in 1945 he set up the J&M Recording Studio, and became its primary recording engineer. And that’s where Matassa made his mark. “Cosimo was the doorway and window to the world for us musicians in New Orleans,” said Allen Toussaint. “When the Beatles heard Fats Domino, they heard him via Cosimo Matassa. He touched the whole world.” In addition to Fats Domino, Matassa recorded Ray Charles, Lee Dorsey, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, Frankie Ford, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Lloyd Price, and many more. “Virtually every R&B record made in New Orleans between the late 40s and the early 70s was engineered by Cosimo Matassa, and recorded in one of his four studios,” says music writer Jeff Hannusch. What Matassa created became known as “the Cosimo Sound” — strong drums, heavy guitar and bass, light piano and horns, and a strong vocal lead. It was so ubiquitous it’s also known as the “New Orleans Sound”, which influenced not just jazz and R&B, but also formed the basis of early rock: Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” was first recorded in Matassa’s studio in 1947. His influence on rock music was so profound, Matassa was inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. “I wanted to be a just conduit of what that performance was,” Matassa said years later — “a performance frozen in time, if you will. So if you didn’t know I was there, I did my job.” Cosimo (pronounced “Cosmo”) Matassa died in New Orleans on September 11, at 88.
From This is True for 14 September 2014