Dave Bartholomew 1918-2019
Dave Bartholomew, who did so much to create the New Orleans R&B sound and in turn rock ’n’ roll—especially his recordings with Fats Domino—died in Metairie, just outside New Orleans on June 23 at the age of 100. He was born up the Mississippi River in Edgard, Louisiana, some 30 miles from the Crescent City, on December, 24, 1918.
It’s a tribute to his greatness that he produced three of the most important records in rock ‘n’ roll history: Fats Domino’s ‘The Fat Man’ (1949), Lloyd Price’s ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ (1952) and Domino’s ‘Blueberry Hill’ (1956).
Yet there was much more. Between 1949 and 1963 he recorded, mainly for Lew Chudd’s Imperial Records of Hollywood, artists such as Tommy Ridgley, Smiley Lewis, Shirley & Lee, the Spiders, Bobby Mitchell, Chris Kenner, Roy Brown, Bobby Charles, Earl King, Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Clowns, Frankie Ford and many more, plus his own band. Throughout it all, Bartholomew gave full credit to studio owner Cosimo Matassa for his engineering work on those sessions.
Bartholomew started out playing trumpet with the Claiborne Williams Orchestra, on the riverboats and in Army bands before forming his own outfit after World War II. The confident young bandleader first recorded for De Luxe Records of New Jersey, leading to the only hit in his name, ‘Country Boy’, in early 1950. By then he had already been drafted by Lew Chudd as New Orleans A&R man for Imperial Records, setting in train an almost continual run of hits for Fats Domino that would famously include ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, ‘I’m In Love Again’, ‘Blue Monday’, ‘I’m Walkin’’, ‘Walking To New Orleans’ and ‘My Girl Josephine’.
The Imperial association ended when Chudd sold his label to Liberty Records in 1963, meaning Bartholomew effectively retired from the studio at the too-young age of 44. He dabbled with the occasional recording but preferred to pick and choose local social club, Preservation Hall and Jazz Fest dates with his band and to tour with Fats, including Europe.
I was privileged work on five Fats Domino Ace CDs of Bartholomew’s productions in ‘The Imperial Singles’ series, three of which are still available: Vol. 1 (CDCHD 597), Vol. 2 (CDCHD 649) and Vol. 5 (CDCHD 1323). He was featured in Ace’s songwriter series with ‘The Big Beat: The Dave Bartholomew Songbook’ (CDCHD 1303), while two of his early De Luxe tracks can be found on ‘Beef Ball Baby! The New Orleans R&B Sessions’ (CDTOP 1435). His A&R work is also spotlighted on Frankie Ford’s ‘Cruisin’ With Frankie Ford’ (CDCHD 696) and ‘Cracking The Cosimo Code’ (CDTOP 1402) with Earl King, Blazer Boy, Berna-Dean and a remake of his classic ‘The Monkey Speaks His Mind’.
Of Dave Bartholomew’s many accolades, he was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall in 1991 (but as a non-performer), also the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1998, and received a Grammy Trustees Award in 2014. As fellow New Orleans maestro Allen Toussaint said in 2009, as quoted in the songbook CD, Bartholomew was ‘the man of the night, the man of the year, the man of the decade, the man of a lifetime’.
John Broven (www.johnbroven.com)