“There were more people in New Orleans that wanted to play music than in other places. It’s really a music town.” – Roy Bird aka Professor Longhair.
New Orleans is more often touted as the cradle of jazz, a big city in the development of the blues, but it had no small hand in the popularizing of rock ‘n’ roll. In the 19th Century New Orleans was the most exciting, culturally diverse, city in America. With its French overtones – Louisiana had been sold to the Americans by the French in 1803 – it’s 12,000 blacks (1/3rd of the city’s population), as well as many other national groups, all made for a heady mix.
With its jazz based sound New Orleans R & B with its honking saxes and as often as not the pumping piano it created a distinctive sound that was made hugely popular by both Fats Domino and Little Richard.
Much of the credit for what happened must go to trumpeter, Dave Bartholomew who was a fixer, bandleader, producer and all round New Orleans Mr Music. He began his career as World War 2 was ending doing so much to transition jump blues to rock ‘n’ roll. He wasn’t the only one, just listen to Bob Ogden’s Orchestra featuring Roy Brown and ‘Good Rockin Tonight’, another candidate for the first rock ‘n’ roll record. ‘ Roy Bird, who later worked under the name Professor Longhair was also an inspiration, he too worked too with Earl Palmer the drummer that featured on so many of the classic records to come out of New Orleans.
Smiley Lewis was reminiscent of Joe Turner who originally recorded ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’. Smiley’s ‘I Hear You Knocking’ was classic New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll, as was ‘One Night’ which Elvis covered. It was Bartholomew’s success with Fats Domino that led to other record companies heading to the ‘Crescent City’ to see who they could record. Little Richard was the obvious beneficiary of this musical trawl but Specialty, based in Los Angeles, discovered both Lloyd Price and Guitar Slim. It was Dave Bartholomew’s band that backed Lloyd Price on his classic, ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’. By 1959 it all came together in one of the city’s finest records, Frankie Ford’s ‘Sea Cruise’.
Ten Classics from the Crescent City
Good Rockin Tonight – Bob Ogden’s Orchestra featuring Roy Brown 1947
Oh Well – Roy Byrd and his Blues Jumpers 1949
The Fat Man – Fats Domino 1949
That’s How You Got Killed Before – Dave Bartholomew 1950
Lawdy Miss Clawdy – Lloyd Price I Hear You Knocking – Smiley Lewis 1955
Tutti Frutti – Little Richard 1956
Let The Good Tiimes roll – Shirley & Lee 1956
Rocking Pnuemonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu – Huey Piano Smith 1957
Sea Cruise – Frankie Ford 1957