NEW ORLEANS -- It all started with the fat man.
Fats Domino and his legendary producer/arranger Dave Bartholomew will both readily admit that, though they'll remind you they're referring to the 1949 Domino song which launched both of their careers, and not anyone's physical appearance.
Bartholomew, 89, is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has won about every honor you can get in music. He and Domino put out hit after hit in the 1950s and 60s, from 'Blue Monday' and 'Ain't That a Shame' to 'I'm Walkin,' 'Whole Lotta Lovin'' and so many more.
But it all started with 'The Fat Man,' recorded at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studios in the French Quarter in 1949.
Many people have credited Bartholomew, Domino and Matassa with helping to develop the New Orleans sound and rock and roll, but Dave Bartholomew is too humble to take on that title.
'I don't think it was the birth of rock and roll because you had a lot of people doing it before us. We got more attention than anybody else,' Bartholomew said.
But Dave and Fats were breaking new ground and they developed a sound that would go on to bring them both a long string of million-selling records.
Most of them were recorded in New Orleans by Matassa, who opened a place in the French Quarter, that was mostly a record and appliance store with a studio in the back.
'The first customers were people who just came in to make demos for their personal use and that kind of stuff,' Matassa recalled in a 2007 interview with WWL-TV, to mark his Grammy Trustees Award.
Anyone who asks what Matassa knew about music, recording or the music business at the time will get the same answer from him: 'I didn't know a damn thing about it.'
But Matassa was apparently a quick learner and went on to record with Fats, Dave and many other local stars, including Little Richard, Irma Thomas, the Nevilles, Frankie Ford, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint and more.
You didn't have to know a lot to realize there was something very special about the collaboration of Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. In Matassa's mind, without Dave Bartholomew, there would not be a Fats Domino as the world knows him. And without Fats, the Dave Bartholomew, who has won all sorts of music accolades, would not be the same.
'That's true,' Bartholomew acknowledged. 'One complemented the other.'
Dave and Fats, now 82, eventually went their separate ways but there is no doubt both had a genius that fed off one another. And in later years both are still are in awe of the other's talent.
'Fats was a hell of a boogie woogie piano player. I don't care who you get, he was going to come in on top,' Bartholomew said.
He is modest when talking about his role in creating a new sound with Domino and other music legends.
'You guys call it a new sound. The main thing we did is I took the trombone out of it. They were doing the traditional, better known as Dixieland. I cut that out, what I did, I said 'Okay, I want everybody to do what we called a riff,'' he demonstrated recently.
Friday, New Orleans will honor Bartholomew, Matassa and the record that started it all, 'The Fat Man,' with a gala event organized by the Louisiana State Museum Foundation. It's in advance of a new exhibit highlighting Louisiana music history, titled 'Unsung Heroes: The Secret History of Louisiana Rock and Roll.' It is set to open at the Cabildo in April.
Friday evening's fund-raiser, 'It All Started with the Fat Man,' begins with a patron party at 6:30 p.m., followed by a gala at 8 p.m. at the Arsenal on Jackson Square. For ticket information call 504-558-0493 or visit www.thelmf.org/current-event/event.