CRACKING THE COSIMO CODE-60S NEW ORLEANS R&B AND SOUL.

CRACKING THE COSIMO CODE-60S NEW ORLEANS R&B AND SOUL.

Between 1956 and 1968, Cosimo Matassa owned what was the most important recording studio in New Orleans. Situated at 521-525 Governor Nichols Street, Cosimo Matassa’s studios were where some of the most important soul and R&B to come out of New Orleans was recorded. Cosimo Matassa’s studio sat between J&M Recording Studios and the Jazz City Studio, Cosimo Matassa’s studio seemed to the only studio that mattered. That’s where the great and good of soul and R&B headed to record their latest single.

Eddie Bo, Earl King, Barbara Lynn, Dave Bartholomew and his Orchestra, Ronnie Barron, Lee Dorsey, Willie Tee, Aaron Neville and Joe Haywood all made their way to Cosimo Matassa’s studio. There they were produced by some of the top producers in New Orleans. This began with Dave Bartholomew, who produced Fats Domino. Soon, legendary New Orleans producers like Allen Toussaint, Harold Battiste, Eddie Bo and Wardell Quezergue were making their way to Cosimo Matassa’s studio. It soon became the go-to studio for artists and producers wanting to lay down the latest slice of R&B or soul. That was the case right through until 1968, when Cosimo Matassa’s studio closed its doors. It was a case of gone but not forgotten.

Cosimo Matassa’s studio is one of the most celebrated studios in the history of soul and R&B. So much so, that it has its very own website dedicated to cracking what’s been referred to as the “Cosimo Code.” That’s the system Cosimo Matassa used to catalogue his recordings. It’s continued to puzzle music lovers over the years. Try as they may, they’ve never been able to solve this enigmatic system. Eventually, in 2013, a group of musicologists decided to setup a website dedicated to “Cracking The Cosimo Code.” Since then, they’ve dedicated themselves to shedding light on Cosimo Matassa’s enigmatic system. However, there’s another meaning to “Cracking The Cosimo Code.”

Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul is also the title of a compilation recently released by Ace Records. It features the giants of the New Orleans’ music scene. Everyone from Eddie Bo, Earl King, Barbara Lynn, Dave Bartholomew and his Orchestra, Ronnie Barron, Lee Dorsey, Willie Tee, Aaron Neville and Joe Haywood feature on Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul. It’s a twenty-four track compilation that celebrates Cosimo Matassa’s famous New Orleans studio. 

Opening Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul, is Jessie Hill’s Ooh Poo Pah Doo. It was written by Jessie Hill, whose musical career began as a drummer in Professor Longhair’s band. By 1958, Jessie had his own band, The House Rockers. One of their favourite tracks was Ooh Poo Pah Doo. Eventually, Jessie recorded the song in Cosimo’ studio. Produced by Allen Toussaint, it was released on Minit Records. This resulted in one of the biggest hist of his career,  reaching number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B charts.

Eddie Bo was an important player in New Orleans’ post-war music scene. Singer, songwriter and producer, Eddie tried everything during a career that lasted fifty years. In 1962, Eddie recorded Harold Batiste and Melvin Lastie’s I Got To Know. Soulful, sultry and funky, this Harold Batiste producer track failed to chart. Six years later, Eddie and Innez Cheatham recorded Edwin Bocage’s Lover and A Friend. Produced by Eddie, he and Innez prove the perfect, soulful foil for each other. Despite this Lover and A Friend failed to chart. However, it’s a hidden gem that deserves a wider audience.

Just like Eddie Bo, Earl King played an important part in the New Orleans music scene. During a forty year career, Eddie had been an arranger, label owner and singer. He also worked with some of New Orleans best producers. This included Dave Bartholomew, in 1962. Dave produced Eddie’s single Trick Bag. Released on Imperial, it sold well within the New Orleans area. Five years later Earl worked with producer Wardell Quezergue. He produced Earl’s 1967 single, Poor Sam. Originally released on Nola imprint Hot Line, Poor Sam was eventually picked up by Checker and was the perfect showcase for Eddie’s bluesy, soulful, lived-in vocal.

Chris Kenner was a talented singer and songwriter. He’s best remembered for singles like Land Of The 1000 Dances, Sick and Tired and I Like It Like That. He also wrote and recorded Something You Got. It was produced by Allen Touissaint, and released as a single in 1962, on Instant. Something You Got was a regional hit and was responsible for the Popeye dance craze that swept New Orleans. However, fifty-two years later, and Something You Got is best remembered as a deeply soulful, soul-baring single.

Barbara Lynn wrote Second Fiddle Girl and entered Cosimo Matassa’s studios in 1962. There she was joined by producer Huey Meaux, the man who discovered Barbara. She was his greatest discovery. A year before she released Second Fiddle Girl, she’d enjoyed a number one US R&B hit with You’ll Lose A Good Thing. Lightning didn’t strike twice with Second Fiddle Girl. No. Released on Jamie, it stalled at number sixty-two in the US Billboard 100. If ever a single deserved to fare better, it’s Second Fiddle Girl, which features a feisty, swaggering vocal from Barbara Lynn.

In 1963, John Williams’ group The Tick Tocks entered Cosimo Matassa’s studio with Harold Battiste, one of New Orleans’ top producers. They recorded the Alvin Carter, Eugene Harris, Walter Washington and John Williams’ composition I’m Gonna Get You Yet. It was released on the Fire label in 1963. I’m Gonna Get You Yet literally oozes quality, emotion and frustration. It’s also reminder of the quality of R&B coming out of New Orleans in the early sixties.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, Ronnie Barron covered the Dr. John penned Did She Mention My Name. They were old friends. Before becoming Dr. John, he was Mac Rebennack. He had recorded with Ronnie as Drifts and Davy and then as Ronnie and The Delinquents. Now Ronnie had embarked upon a solo career. Sam Montel produced Did She Mention My Name. It was released on the Michelle label, but disappeared without trace. That’s a great shame. With a nod to The Impressions, Ronnie delivers a beautiful, heartfelt vocal against an understated arrangement. The result is one of the highlights of Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul.

Lee Dorsey was one of the most successful artists to come out of New Orleans during the sixties. One of his hit singles was Get Out Of My Life, Woman, which was written and produced by Allen Toussaint. Released on the Amy label, Get Out Of My Life, Woman reached number forty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B charts. No wonder. Get Out Of My Life, Woman epitomises everything that’s good about Lee Dorsey’s music.

June Gardner’s 99 Plus One is a drum led instrumental where elements of blues, jazz and R& melt seamlessly into one. It’s a truly timeless track. Providing the heartbeat is Albert “Gentleman” June Gardner’s drums. He started life as a jazz drummer. By 1960, he was Sam Cooke’s touring drummer. After that, his music headed in the direction of funk. On 99 Plus One, his jazzy roots shine through. In 1965, he recorded 99 Plus One which was produced by Wardell Quezergue. It was released on Hot Line and later, Blue Rock where June Gardner became J. Gardner. Despite this change of name, sadly, commercial success eluded 99 Plus One, which is a glorious genre-melting instrumental.  

Aaron Neville’s Tell It Like It Is is without doubt the highlight of Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul. Written by George Davis and Lee Diamond, Tell It Like It Is is was produced by George and Alvin “Red” Tyler. Released on the Parlo label in 1966, Tell It Like It Is is reached number two in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B charts. It’s a heartachingly beautiful, stonewall soul classic. It should also inspire everyone to check out Aaron Neville and The Neville Brothers’ illustrious discography.

An oft-covered song is Please Release Me. Written by Eddie Miller, James Pebworth and Robert Yount, it was covered by Johnny Adams in 1967. Produced by Wardell Quezergue and released on the Watch label, this heartfelt and emotive cover should’ve been a huge hit. However, musical tastes had changed and the single stalled at eighty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-four in the US R&B charts.

Closing Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul is Joe Haywood’s Play A Cornbread Song For Me And My Baby. Joe is best known for his hit single Warm and Tender Love. This dictated the direction Joe’s music would head. That’s until Play A Cornbread Song For Me And My Baby. It was produced by New Orleans veteran Larry Lucie. Larry had played some of the biggest names in music, including Jelly Roll Morton. Play A Cornbread Song For Me And My Baby was released on Kent in 1967, and saw Joe change direction. He get’s funky on a track that previously, had been a hit for Esther Phillips in 1962. However, Joe’s uber funky, vampish version of Play A Cornbread Song For Me And My Baby failed to chart. 

It’s no exaggeration to say that musical magic took place at Cosimo Matassa’s New Orleans’ studio. Between 1956 and 1968, Cosimo Matassa owned what was without doubt, the most important recording studio in New Orleans. Situated at 521-525 Governor Nichols Street, Cosimo Matassa’s studios were where some of the most important soul and R&B to come out of New Orleans was recorded. That’s apparent on Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul. 

The great and good of New Orleans’ music feature on Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul. I’ve mentioned just fourteen of the tracks. I could just as easily have mentioned any of the twenty-four tracks. That’s not surprising. Look at Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul’s track listing. 

Everyone from Eddie Bo, to Earl King, Barbara Lynn, Dave Bartholomew and his Orchestra, Ronnie Barron, through Lee Dorsey, Willie Tee, Aaron Neville and Joe Haywood all made their way to Cosimo Matassa’s studio. They were joined by some of New Orleans top producers.

One of the first was Dave Bartholomew, who produced Fats Domino. Very soon, legendary New Orleans producers like Allen Toussaint, Harold Battiste, Eddie Bo and Wardell Quezergue were making their way to Cosimo Matassa’s studio. They made magic happen at 521-525 Governor Nichols Street. This was the case for twelve years. Cosimo Matassa’s studio closed its doors in 1968. That wasn’t the end of the story.

Since then, Cosimo Matassa’s studio has become one of the most celebrated studios in the history of soul and R&B. That’s no surprise. Look at the music that was created within its four walls. It was one of the busiest and most successful studios in New Orleans. A huge amount of music was recorded within Cosimo Matassa’s studio. The twenty-four tracks on Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul are just a taste of the magic that happened at 521-525 Governor Nichols Street. There’s plenty more music still to be discovered. So, lets hope that Ace Records recently released compilation is  Cracking The Cosimo Code-60s New Orleans R&B and Soul just the start of a regular series of compilations. 

CRACKING THE COSIMO CODE-60S NEW ORLEANS R&B AND SOUL.

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