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Recording at Cosimo

Recording at Cosimo

Huey Meaux and Mickey Gilley saw me walk in at Cosimo’s with my Fender bass.

“What is that?,” Huey yelled in a mike.

“My new bass guitar,” I answered.

“No! No!,” he continued. “You and your old bass have recorded hits for me and I want that sound. Don’t fix what ain’t broke. Get your old bass.”

“Sorry,” I fibbed. “I sold it.” (It was home, and eventually destroyed in the Hurricane Hilda flood of 1964).

The Vikings, already set up, began rehearsing with Huey listening carefully. After about 10 minutes he told Cosimo: “Play the Barbara Lynn master tape.” (You’ll Lose a Good Thing, a million seller we had recorded).

He listened intensely and finally said, “Well, it must have been your style I liked because I can’t tell the difference, so let’s record.”

I played it for years until a friend said, “Your guitar’s starting to show wear and tear.”

The late D.J. Collins was good at refurnishing guitars and agreed to do mine. BIG MISTAKE! D.J. did a good job but Fender guitars are collectibles and the instrument I had bought for $125 was now worth thousands but 50% less without its original finish. I eventually retired it and gave it to my son Mike for his collection. It now belongs to my grandson, NASCAR racer Hal Martin, but it’s still in my man cave.

Recording sessions

I learned about recording by questioning engineers. “What’s that do-jigger? What does that thing-a-ma-bob do? What does this gadget control? What’s that gizmo?” (You can tell I knew all the technical names.)

Some of the studios I recorded at were Cosimo’s in New Orleans, Stan Lewis’ in Shreveport, Montel’s in Baton Rouge, Starday in Beaumont, Sugar Hill in Pasedena, and Castle in Nashville.

Cosimo Matassa’s first studio was back of a record shop on Rampart Street, a small room that musicians, engineers and equipment squeezed into. The sound was cut into wax discs, and errors meant starting over with a new wax disc. Minor errors were ignored and appear today on many big hits recorded there such as Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill, Little Richard’s Tuttie Fruitie, Lloyd Price’s Lawdy Miss Claudy, and many others.

A few years ago I attended a ceremony designating that building, now a laundry mat, with a plaque which declares it a “historic” building. Fats Domino, Dave Bartelameau, Cosimo Matassa and other celebrities were there.

I never recorded there, but in 1949, Dudley Bernard and his guitar player Luke Charpentier, Jr. recorded Alone Without You Darling, a 78 rpm. The next year I would join Dudley’s band, the “Southern Serenaders”.

In the 1950’s Cosimo moved to a former warehouse on Camp Street, a huge room with concrete floors and primitive air conditioning. Before a recording session, a truck poured a ton of crushed ice in a corner and a huge fan would blow cold air into the studio.

The ice lasted two hours, but the sessions up to six. We would then strip to the essentials and, covered with sweat, complete the session. In the winter electric heaters would unsucessfully attempt to warm up the room so we dressed accordingly.

Remarkably, it was there, under those conditions, that our band, the Vikings, recorded hundreds of songs for dozens of labels and artists which produced many hits, national, regional and locally. Some sold thousands, some millions, but most of them, as with all record releases, died and the artists were never heard from again. Par for the course.

As a session musician, sometimes producer or director, I saw more failures than successes, but it was quite an experience. Every song ever recorded was thought to be a potential hit. But as the old saying goes, “Millions are called, but few are chosen.”

I recently read a book about country artist Roger Miller, who in his lifetime made many beautiful and audacious quotes.

Once watching the sun rise he said, “Here comes God, with his headlights on.”

Another time, “You’ve got to know which pocket your pills are in and which one’s your change. The other day I had a headache and before I knew it I had taken thirty-five cents.”

Bye now!

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