Friday, September 12, 2014

R. I. P. Cosimo Matassa (April 13, 1926 – September 11, 2014)

© 2014 Breton Littlehales
Cosimo, the improbable man with the improbable name.

Dubbed "Coz" by most of the musicians he knew, which was virtually all the musicians there were in New Orleans between 1945 and last year, Mr. Matassa was responsible for recording and engineering pretty much every single record to come out of New Orleans during the golden age of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues.

Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Guitar Slim, the early Specialty Little Richard, the Neville Brothers, including Aaron's hit "Tell It Like It Is", and Art's "Mardi Gras Mambo" were all recorded at Cosimo's studios.

Mr. Matassa claims he was just trying to make a living. His father owned an appliance store and let his son set up his first recording studio in the back room there. That was in 1945. It was the kind of studio that would record neighborhood kids eager to sing into a microphone and then book Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino at night.

Mr. Matassa seemed to enjoy the occasional reminiscence. How did he like Professor Longhair? He didn't.

"I didn't see what the fuss was all about. He was a real pain in the studio. Had a hard time getting through a song."

Guitar Slim?

"Slim was a character, no doubt about it," said Mr. Matassa. He liked Guitar Slim. "But that was a hell of a session. Two day session. Second day, Slim's all business. 'I won't let you down, Coz.' You can hear Ray Charles yell at the end, he's so relieved."

Who does he miss the most?

"Earl Palmer. No question. He was my best friend."

He tried managing a few times, worked with Chuck Carbo until he got pneumonia, started Dover records which had two immediate hits, "Barefootin'" by Robert Parker and "Tell It Like It Is" by Aaron Neville.

It was the success of the records that did him in. "Money was going out, but nothing was coming in. Everyone owed me money and I couldn't get it, and meanwhile we're pressing all the records and the pressing guys want their money now."

He auctioned a lot of equipment and helped Allen Toussaint set up Sea- Saint Studios.

Then he left the business.

Or sort of. If you're Cosimo Matassa and you live in New Orleans and you're a legend, you never really leave the business. He had an office upstairs at the grocery store in the Quarter, and was usually pleased to see fans as long as he wasn't busy or tired.

He played himself last year in an episode of Treme, teamed with his old friend and collaborator Dave Bartholomew, sitting in a studio, listening to a dismal playback. It's a light moment between old pals and, much like the sequence in the same series with Fats Domino, a little bit of a treasure now.

According to the Times Picayune, he had been in ill health. A couple of strokes, and a lessening of quality of life.

Then again, what a life. Cosimo Matassa preserved some of the greatest music ever played on this planet. He was there at the beginning of a musical art form and the quality of his work provided the perfect canvas for that art.

So I won't see you by the grocery store next time, Mr. Matassa. But I'll know you're there. And everywhere else in the city where everything that ever happened is still happening. Right now. All the time.