September 02, 2006

High Class Junk

"Junk Man" (Bartholomew)
Dave Bartholomew, Broadmoor 101, 1967

Twenty years after trumpeter Dave Bartholomew began his run as New Orleans’ premier bandleader, talent scout, producer, arranger and songwriter, the salad days of the music business were essentially over for him. Since the late 1940’s he had worked as Imperial Records’ main man in the Crescent City, producing virtually all of Fats Domino’s sessions as well as cutting records on many other local and national artists.

But, by the early 1960’s, Fats’ new records were no longer hitting, and neither were Imperial singles Bartholomew produced for Earl King, Frankie Ford, Snooks Eaglin, Huey Smith and the Clowns, and Shirley and Lee, fine as many of them were. Then, in 1963, a succession of surprising moves helped close the book on Bartholomew’s preeminence. First of all, Fats did not renew his contract with Imperial, signing instead with ABC-Paramount. As a result, Imperial’s owner, Lew Chudd, sold the Los Angeles-based company to a group that also owned Liberty Records; and Bartholomew chose not to stay with the new Imperial. Meanwhile, Domino, his long-time main focus and songwriting partner, was shunted off to Nashville by ABC for a lackluster few years of recording. Bartholomew continued working off and on as Fats’ bandleader on the road while still making a fine royalty income from his impressive song catalog. In 1967, the semi-retired Bartholomew decided to start his own record label, so he could continue to dabble casually in the business, naming it Broadmoor, after an established Mid-City New Orleans neighborhood.

He inaugurated the label by releasing his recordings of “Junk Man” b/w
“Hey-Hey”, along with co-vocalist Fats Matthews, whose group, The Hawks, had worked with the producer back in the early 1950’s. Both sides, written by Bartholomew, were strong musically, rocking along atop syncopated drum grooves, most probably laid down by the ever-funky Smokey Johnson. But the single was a commercial non-starter, as were the nearly dozen others the label released on artists such as Leonard Lee (formerly of Shirley and Lee) and Charles Brimmer during its brief two year run. Bartholomew even convinced Fats Domino, who was between deals, to record two singles for the label; but neither the enjoyable “Work My Way Up Steady” b/w “The Lady In Black” nor its follow-up caught any kind of action either. So, Bartholomew quietly let Broadmoor slide, and did not record again until putting out a traditional jazz album in the early 1980’s and making an enjoyable comeback CD, New Orleans Big Beat, with his re-vamped big band in 1998.

He continued touring with Fats for many years and has played Jazzfest in New Orleans occasionally with the big band. I’ve been fortunate to have seen several of those sets in recent years. While awesome, they were made more amazing by the fact that the bandleader was an octogenarian. As I have pointed out previously, before Allen Toussaint came into his own in the early 1960’s, Dave Bartholomew was untouched as the predominant behind the scenes force in New Orleans music. He stayed that way because he had a great ear for what the public liked, he demanded the best of his musicians and singers, he stayed true to the New Orleans sound he helped popularize, and he was a wise businessman. So, it’s ironic that one track on his last 45 was “Junk Man", since this classy, successful gentleman definitely never dealt in that commodity in the real world.

Mr. Dave


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