The day after the massive funeral and second line for Dr. John, even as WWOZ was continuing its unprecedented marathon of Dr. John programming, the radio station broke another upsetting story—Dave Bartholomew had passed away at age 100.
Bartholomew was linked in death one last time with Dr. John. Sixty years ago, the two genius musicians, songwriters and bandleaders had both worked as producers at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Recording Studio. Bartholomew’s band had a guitarist, so it’s unlikely they recorded together back then, but they knew each other, and many, many years later, when Dr. John was recording Nawlinz: Dis Dat or D’udda, Bartholomew put down his last recorded trumpet solo on a version of his classic song, “The Monkey.”
Now ’OZ was schizophrenically trying to honor them both at the same time, alternately playing tracks by one, then the other. This was uncharted territory. If Dr. John’s passing was viewed as the end of an era, Bartholomew’s death marked the end of a century of New Orleans’ influence on American music.
Bartholomew studied trumpet with Peter Davis, the same teacher who once taught Louis Armstrong. He played traditional jazz on the riverboats. He then mastered the art of big band production, arrangement, and direction, before leading New Orleans’ hottest jump blues band in the 1950s, and becoming the A&R rep and producer for Los Angeles-based Imperial Records. This role saw him direct the career of Fats Domino, and he also cut scores of essential New Orleans tracks by his own band, as well as tracks by New Orleans legends Huey “Piano” Smith, Earl King, Tommy Ridgley, Shirley and Lee, Smiley Lewis, James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, Chris Kenner and Snooks Eaglin.
Bartholomew was one of a handful of people who could truly take credit for creating rock ’n’ roll. When you hear Fats Domino, you are hearing Dave Bartholomew.
Last December, I was looking forward to celebrating Bartholomew’s 100th birthday at a party that was sure to be an event to remember. The morning of the party, we found out that Dave had been hospitalized the night before, and the party was called off. His son Don promised that the party would be rescheduled. He never got the chance, and now that 100th birthday celebration becomes a lifetime sendoff.
I met Dave 30 years ago, when I was a reporter for United Press International and he was in New York (with Don accompanying him) to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. We had a lengthy and laugh-filled session, with Dave telling me his life story and enumerating the many injustices he had suffered over the course of his career. One of the things he was most peeved about was that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted him in its non-performer category. The Rock Hall is an institution not known for its sagacity, but this misreading of history has to go down as one of its all-time blunders, perhaps a mistake that can finally be corrected posthumously.
At the time, I could only use a small portion of Dave’s comments for my UPI story. Fortunately OffBeat agreed to publish a much longer version of the interview last December. In going over the transcript, I came across something that I had overlooked at the time. Although Bartholomew talked in great detail about his accomplishments and disappointments, he was satisfied with the outcome, he said, because his goal had always been primarily to take care of his family. He did that in spectacular fashion. Dave Bartholomew leaves behind a family dynasty fueled by a multi-million dollar publishing empire run by his son Ronald. His other son Don, known as Don B., is a successful producer in his own right, and his sons Don Bartholomew Jr. (Supa Dezzy) and Blake (Trakka Beats) all work out of the Bartholomew studio at 1616 North Galvez. It’s a musical dynasty that stretches from the heyday of New Orleans R&B to contemporary hip-hop. Not a bad legacy, Mr. Dave.