The New Orleans Sound is built upon the cultural diversity of this cosmopolitan seaport. Since its inception, rock 'n' roll has drawn upon the city's musical sources; i.e., the ensemble playing of black funeral bands, the syncopated "second line" rhythms of Mardi Gras parades, the country blues from the nearby Mississippi delta, barrelhouse piano stylings, and various forms of jazz improvisation.
The godfather of the modern scene may well have been the postwar r & b piano man, Professor Longhair. Born Henry Byrd in 1918, Longhair adapted the raucous chords of barrelhouse playing into a more refined mode of delivery to which he added Latin rhythms and gently sung blues lyrics. His music contained the core substratum of all New Orleans rock 'n' roll: a rugged, rolling bass riff constructed around the carefree interplay of piano, string bass, guitar, and saxophone. As noted by Langdon Winner, in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll (rev. ed.), "Weaned on blues and boogie, Crescent City musicians have never been afraid to load up the lower end of the scale with more instrumentation than seems reasonable. On top of that foggy rumble it becomes possible to contrast the higher range of a fine tenor sax or the voice of a good r & b shouter and generate a marvelous tension in the music."
The individuals most responsible for harnessing this style were Dave Bartholomew--trumpeter and leader of the finest New Orleans r & b band during the post-World War II era, who wrote, arranged, and played for Fats Domino and most other key recording artists of the 1950s--and Cosimo Matassa, owner and chief engineer of J & M Studio, where all of the New Orleans acts recorded. The superior acoustics and laid-back "live" feel in Matassa's work attracted notable performers from across the nation, including Little Richard and Ray Charles.
When the original r & b-inflected sound grew somewhat stale in the late 1950s, a young pianist, writer, and producer, Allen Toussaint, spearheaded a revitalization of the city's musical conventions. He produced a series of successful records for small labels in the area such as Minit, Instant, A.F.O., and Fury. They all included his trademark--a lively but light-handed background riff--and the use of ingenious hook lines, often delivered at a pause in the music at the end of a chorus. Two of his biggest hits, Ernie K-Doe's "Mother-In-Law" and Chris Kenner's "I Like It Like That", provided textbook examples of these features.
When Toussaint entered the army in 1963, New Orleans music lost much of its creative momentum. His return to the scene a couple of years helped stimulate yet another rebirth of the sound. However, changes in national tastes consigned much of the city's output to regional popularity. Nevertheless, the music continued to play a vital role in the development of other notable rock styles, including Motown, the Stax Sound, British beat groups, and reggae.
Top Artists and Their Recordings
Jimmy Clanton--"Just a Dream" (1958); "Venus in Blue Jeans (1962)
The Dixie-Cups--"Chapel of Love" (1964)' "People Say" (1964); "Iko Iko" (1965)
Fats Domino--"Ain't That a Shame" (1955); "I'm in Love Again" (1956); "Blueberry Hill" (1956); "Blue Monday" (1957); "I'm Walkin'" (1957); "Valley of Tears" (1957); "Whole Lotta Loving" (1958/9); "I Want to Walk You Home" (1959); "Be My Guest" (1959); "Walking to New Orleans" (1960)
Lee Dorsey--"Ya Ya" (1961); "Working in the Coal Mine" (1966); "Holy Cow" (1966)
Frankie Ford--"Sea Cruise" (1959)
Barbara George--"I Know" (1962)
Clarence "Frog Man" Henry--"Ain't Got No Home" (1956/7); "But I Do" (1961)
Jesse Hill--"Ooh Poo Pah Doo--Part II" (1960)
Joe Jones--"You Talk Too Much" (1960)
Ernie K-Doe--"Mother-In-Law" (1961)
Chris Kenner--"I Like It Like That, Part 1" (1961)
Smiley Lewis--"I Hear Your Knocking" (1955)
Bobby Marchan--"There's Something on Your Mind, Part 2" (1960)
The Meters--"Cissy Strut" (1969)
Aaron Neville--"Tell It Like It Is" (1966/7)
Lloyd Price--"Lawdy Miss Clawdy" (1952); "Stagger Lee" (1958/9); "Personality" (1959); "I'm Gonna Get Married" (1959)
Shirley and Lee--"Let the Good Times Roll" (1956; 1960)
Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns--"Don't You Just Know It" (1958)