Dave Bartholomew shapes popular sound
If ever there was a man who wore many hats, it was Dave Bartholomew.
The name might mean very little to most people now, but it carried a lot of weight with New Orleans blues, and by extension popular music in general.
Born in Edgard, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans, the cradle of rhythm and blues, on Christmas Eve 1920, Bartholomew was perhaps the most important figure in the development of that genre and a potent influence on the development of Jamaican popular music.
He helped develop and define the New Orleans sound, which had a major influence on the emergence of rock and roll, and which in turn impacted Jamaican music immensely. The roles Bartholemew played included band leader, trumpeter, songwriter, music arranger, producer, talent scout, businessman and a vocalist who had several hits to his credit.
Bartholemew's first set of records were for the Deluxe label and included the R&B hit Country Boy in 1949. The gospel-tinged When The Saints go Marching In, first recorded by Louis Armstrong, was also numbered among his early hits, while,
Who Drank My Beer While I Was in the Rear, was a favourite among hardcore blues fanatics, but it was his vocal recording of The Monkey Speaks His Mind, that captured the hearts of many Jamaicans. Bartholomew, one of the singers to have a tinge of rap, sought to rebut the notion that man descended from monkeys. He was adamant about his conviction as he rapped:
"There’s a certain rumour that cant be true,
that man descended from our noble race.
But their idea is a big disgrace.
No monkey ever deserted his wife
Or her baby and ruin their life.
Yeah the monkey speaks his mind"
Unknown to many the bawdy My Ding-a-Ling, made popular by rock and roll giant Chuck Berry, was also written and first recorded by Bartholomew in 1952.
After spending his formative years in Edgard, Bartholomew’s musician father move his family to nearby New Orleans just in time for Dave’s high school days. He learnt the tuba and trumpet and, by the end of high school, was already playing with some of the most popular bands in the south, rubbing shoulders with much older musicians.
Bartholomew honed much of his trumpet talents while playing on a Mississippi river boat and later, during a stint with the United States Army Band in World War II, learnt musical arrangement and composition.
Shortly after the war Bartholomew formed his own band in New Orleans, which became the most popular one in the city as talented musicians rocked and stomped behind trumpeter/singer Bartholomew. Apart from doing instrumentals, the band provided the music for several outstanding blues numbers from 1949 - 1954.
But it was off the stage roles that Bartholomew had his greatest impact on popular music. Virtually singlehandedly, he produced, arranged and did talent scouting for almost all the early New Orleans R&B Imperial Records’ sessions in the 1950s. He sometimes wrote or co-wrote the songs while simultaneously pursuing his own career.
Bartholemew's most lucrative associations were with Fats Domino, whose first recording he co-wrote and arranged, It was the hit The Fat Man in 1949, which set Domino on the road to success.
It was followed by a plethora of Domino hits, all co-written with Bartholomew or arranged by him, generating sales of several hundred million dollars, an achievement which entered the Guinness Book of Records.
Other hits that Bartholomew co-wrote and/or arranged for Domino between 1949 and 1961 are Aint That a Shame, Blue Monday, I’m Walking, My Girl Josephine, Country Boy, Bo Weivel, When I See You, Sick and Tired, I’m in Love Again, Going to the River, Valley of Tears, and Blueberry Hill. They were all backed by Bartholomew’s band.
In Walking To New Orleans Barthlolmew introduced a string section unlike any heard before in rock and roll. The shuffling rhythm created by the Domino/Bartholomew association had a profound influence on Jamaican music in its embryonic stage.
In addition, Bartholomew wrote and produced the breakthrough hit, I’m Gone’ for sweethearts duo Shirley and Lee in 1952 on the Aladdin label. He later arranged their biggest hit, Let The Good Times Roll in 1956.
Bartholomew also produced Lloyd Price’s biggest hit, Lawdy Miss Clawdy for Specialty Records in 1952. In 1955 he co-wrote for Imperial Records Smiley Lewis’ biggest hits, I Hear You Knocking (later covered by Gail Storm) and One Night of Sin (later covered by Elvis Presley).
In 1947 Lew Chudd, owner of Imperial Records, had hired Bartholomew to find and record New Orleans talent. Bartholomew met Chudd while playing at a popular Houston nightclub. Chudd hired Bartholomew as a telent scout/A&R, giving him a free hand in discovering and recording talent.
Under Bartholomew’s watch Domino was one of the first to be signed, along with Jewel King. King gave Bartholemew the first of his many productions, 3x7 makes 21, In the song she asserted:
"I’m going out baby and have myself some fun.
Come on baby lets do a fancy dance,
Now that I’m a lady I just got to have romance"
Other artistes who came under Bartholomew's influence during his 13-year association with Imperial Records included Frankie Ford, Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and James ‘Sugar boy’ Crawford’.