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Interview with Cosimo Matassa [Part 1 of 2]

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Interview with Cosimo Matassa [Part 1 of 2]
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Matassa, Cosimo, Rock and Roll, Engineer
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Interviewer:
Can you tell us about growing up in New Orleans and hearing music, what kind of music you heard, where it was, what got you involved in it?
Matassa:
Well, my parents lived in the French Quarter when I was born so I heard everything that was around there for, for starters which was a little bit of everything in those days. French Quarter was really about 50 percent Italian then and the rest Irish and Germans mostly. And so I heard a lot of, ah, march music, a lot of dance music. New Orleans was and is a good town for parties and that sort of stuff, so there was a lot of it. And, ah, at home I, I actually would, at relatives homes mostly I heard a lot of schottisches and mazurkas and things like that.
Interviewer:
Did you hear much black music at that time?
Matassa:
Oh, lots of it. I lived in, in what, for want of a better word, was a mixed neighborhood. And, so, yeah, I heard a lot of it. People all, all around that, ah, you know, all the guys in the, in the, in the traditional bands, a bunch of them lived in and around that, that neighborhood, George Lewis and people like that.
Interviewer:
How did you get involved in recording?
Matassa:
Well I kind of backed into it. I went to school to be a chemist and about the time I found out what a chemist was, I didn't want to be a chemist any more. And, ah, it was also about the time I was going to be 18 so I, I dropped out of school. I was going to Tulane at the time. So I dropped out of school figuring I'd get drafted, ah, my birthday was coming up in April so I didn't, I didn't go to the spring semester. Actually then we were having trimesters because they were speeding up everything to make sure we got our degree in time to go off to war and all that. And so I, I didn't, I didn't, ah, sign up for the spring trimester. And, ah, kind of loafed around waiting for something to happen. It never did, ah, and my father who owned a little interest in a, a little juke box business said, well, either go back to school or go to work, you know, you don't just sit on your fanny all the time. So I didn't want to go back to school at that point, the chemistry thing had blown wide open, as far as I was concerned, and I didn't know what else. So I went to work on the juke, in the jukebox business. And, ah, at that time the, the war was still going on but in '45 when it ended, ah, we fixed up a, ah, a store next to where we had the, ah, the original jukebox business. That was at Rampart and Dumaine and it was the partner's idea, not mine, to have a little room in the back where people could record. And, ah, it fell to me to run it, I was a little more technically oriented and, and, ah, ah, gradually did more, more that and less, less of anything else till I was finally doing nothing but recording. It was great, I fell into it but it was just great because it's a nice way to spend your life, you know, earning a living and enjoying all this good music.
Interviewer:
Was Roy Brown one of the earlier things that you did?
Matassa:
Oh yeah, yeah.
Interviewer:
Maybe we can talk about Roy Brown coming and talk about "Good Rocking Tonight". Several people have thought of that as the first rock and roll record.
Matassa:
Well I, I would call it that too so long as it's, everybody understands what first is. I mean, there really wasn't any first and there won't be any last of course, that's a, you know, it, it sort of grows like Topsy. But, ah, I think, ah, ah, that would be a good place to hang your hat and say, - well, things kind of started around this time. Ah, it was big band style, had gospel and blues mixed in with it and he was a good shouter, you know. So it, it had all of the elements that, everything that came after that kind of grew out of. It wasn't nearly as, ah, country as some of the later things were, you know, really, funky kinds of things. It was a little, little bit polished even though it was kind of rough around the edges. But it was, it was a fun kind of thing. If you listen to the lyrics you can tell.
Interviewer:
Had you started doing anything with Dave Bartholomew's band at this point?
Matassa:
Dave was later but not much, ah, if, he was probably the single greatest productivity producer, ah, in terms of the amount of work, length of time.
Interviewer:
Just say Dave Bartholomew ...
Matassa:
Dave Bartholomew was the most productive, ah, ah, of the producers I worked with on, on the basis of the length of time, he was very busy and a number of people and a number of different things, ah, he did and, ah, he, he really spanned a couple of, of the style changes that took place. And he, he did well in both.
Interviewer:
Can you tell us what it took to get records that sounded that good out of a room that small with that many people playing?
Matassa:
Well it, it didn't take much to, to get them to sound good, if you will. I, I was really trying to make them sound like they sounded. I would go out in the studio and listen and go back into the control room and try to make it sound in there like it did out front. So it, it wasn't hard in the sense that I, I knew where I was going, getting there was hard sometimes. But, ah, because of the kinds of, of, ah, ensemble sounds versus solos, there weren't, there weren't a lot of tricky arrangements where you had to be cued on cues and things like that. So generally, if you got a balance, a band balance, it worked pretty much beginning to end, ah, the, the, the work was picking the right microphone out of the few and placing them in the right places. And we actually had to move people during takes sometimes to, to, ah, be able to feature things when they needed to be. But other than that it wasn't hard, ah. It, it was, because it was a definite target to aim at where we were headed.
Interviewer:
I heard that saxophone players sometimes had to play on a piano mike for so long.
Matassa:
Yeah, oh even the drum mike we had a, we had a little, ah, pencil, it was a omni-directional condenser mike, a little, about the size of a few silver dimes, al tech 21B in fact. And, ah, it was around by the, ah, snare drum and quite often the saxophonist had to spin it around, play a solo in it, spin it back to the snare. And if you were working with, ah, ah, some of the drummers who, who played into the solos and played out of them, that was a good trick, not always successful and I think you can hear, a couple of records you can tell it's still moving. But that's, that's a trade secret right not, won't be for long I think.
Interviewer:
Did you have to work hard on getting enough bass sound on those records? I know Dave started beefing up the bass with…
Matassa:
Well, ah, Dave quite often would have the guitar double the bass for instance. And, ah, we would do things to the drums to make them big and thumpy. And, and that was kind of unusual 'cause you got to remember back then they were still using skin heads so they already were thumpy compared to what you hear today, that, that crisp, plastic drum head sound you hear now, it didn't exist then except for a few guys who had really good skins on their snares. But, ah, ah, yeah, he, he, we used to do everything, ah, tape handkerchiefs and, and, ah, other objects, Kotex and things like that to drum heads to, to, to give them the right sound. But, ah, he, he, he was looking for that, that drive, you know, a real visceral sound. You could feel it as much as you heard it.
Interviewer:
What do you remember when Fats first came in and you did "The Fat Man"?
Matassa:
Well I'd heard him before he came into the studio.
Interviewer:
Start again, use his name.
Matassa:
Oh sure. I, I heard Fats before he came into the studio. And so I wasn't surprised by what, what he, he did. But he was always amazing in, in the strength of what he did and unique. He had that, that signature, you know, he could just play a chord and you knew it was him and, and that's a beautiful thing for an artist to have that, that tremendous, unique quality and he had it in spades. Whoops, bad pun. But he, ah, he did, he did play well. He, he was kind of slow about production values he really didn't, he really didn't understand or care to understand about, you're supposed to try to get through quick. He was more interested in doing it the way he thought it ought be doing, done. And so sometimes things stretched out and a lot of things had to be, ah, kind of, they were, had arrangements as we went along and that sort of thing. Although I'll say this with Dave he knew in front what he wanted him to sound like. He'd have to make some changes sometimes because it wasn't happening the way he wanted it to.
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