American Routes Shortcuts: Remembering Dave Bartholomew

Jul 12, 2019

Dave Bartholomew
Credit American Routes

Dave Bartholomew was the force connecting New Orleans jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll, from the 1940s to the 1960s. Born in 1918, upriver in Edgard, Bartholomew was raised in New Orleans, where his father was a barber and a tuba player. His trumpet teacher was Peter Davis who had taught Louis Armstrong a generation prior. 


Dave Bartholomew: I was cutting sugar cane one day. And it was Thanksgiving, and I started crying in the field. I only cut sugar cane once in my life, for only three weeks, and I said, "I gotta be somebody." The only somebody I knew was that horn. I'm gonna try to be something on that horn.

Nick Spitzer: “Country Boy,” Dave Bartholomew singing in 1949. Prior to that he’d been a World War II Army band member and led Fats Pichon's Riverboat Jazz Band. After the war he served as the house band leader at the Dew Drop Inn where Bartholomew went on to add new sounds of jump jazz and be-bop. He backed artists like Paul Gayton and Annie Laurie, Roy Brown, and Sam Cooke. Bartholomew’s players became “the studio band” at J & M studios on North Rampart, where he recorded and produced sessions with Smiley Lewis, Snooks Eaglin, Professor Longhair, Little Richard, and Fats Domino. The engineer was the late Cosimo Matassa.  

Cosimo Matassa: If there hadn’t been a Dave Bartholomew, there may not have been a Fats Domino. Everything was precise, everything was rehearsed, everybody better damn sure wear the same shirt, tie and suit. Dave was the disciplinarian. Dave kept everybody knowing that we’re here to make a record. And I know we’re all having a good time, you know, but we’re here to make records. And Dave was great about that.

NS: 1949, Fats Domino made his first recordings as Bartholomew brought Imperial Records' owner Lew Chudd to hear Fats at the Hideaway in the lower Ninth Ward and lead to Domino’s  first session.

Dave Bartholomew: When I recorded Fats Domino, Fats was playing a song called “The Junker Blues,” talking about smoking weed, that type of thing. I said, “I’m gonna call this ‘The Fat Man.’ And I’m gonna call him ‘Fats’– Fats Domino.”

NS: “The Fat Man” broke out of New Orleans with Fats Domino’s piano, Dave Bartholomew on trumpet, Ernest McLean guitar, Frank Fields bass, Herb Hardesty and Red Tyler saxophones, with Earl Palmer on drums. Fat’s sweet voice and Creole accent and Bartholomew’s arrangement on songs with the New Orleans back beat, would bring black and white teens together at concerts in Northern cities by 1955 when “Ain’t That a Shame” went to the top ten. In addition to being Fat’s arranger and band leader on records that sold over 65 million copies, Dave Bartholomew shaped lyrics to many of the hits of which Blue Monday from 1956 seems best to bid him farewell.  

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