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IMPERIAL 5085; JULY 1950



Some records are designed to promote an artist’s image so they can give audiences some idea of the personality behind the name that adorns the label and in the process forge a connection between the listener and the star.

Then there are those records which are designed show the creative ambitions of those involved and make their artistic aspirations evident to anyone who comes across it, while still other records are merely serviceable filler, something meant to be nothing more than adequate so they can get another release onto the market.

Then there are records like this, a quirky composition that is more instrumental than vocal which removes the headlining artist from the spotlight much of the time, and even those vocals he contributes are delivered in another language altogether (Haitian Creole) which ensures it will probably receive nothing but some modest regional appeal.

It therefore has every appearance of being one of those throwaway cuts, surely being used as a B-side to a much stronger song that will put the full focus on the leading character they were hoping would become a bankable entity.

But no, this is in fact the A-side and it’s the got a different goal entirely. In music circles this is what’s known as a “flex”… a chance for the producer of the best band around to show just how good they are.


Hey, You Over There!
When Dave Bartholomew gathered his band to back Fats Domino at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio on North Rampart Street in New Orleans at the end of the first week of January 1950 their debut record cut a month earlier was just hitting the streets.

In a matter of days The Fat Man would be the hottest song in the city and a few weeks later it’d take off nationwide, launching with it the career of the most consistent rocker of the entire 1950’s… in some ways perhaps the most consistent of all-time.

Yet that day in the studio they were still entirely unsure of their prospects… it was obvious they had someone with great promise, his local appeal in clubs was proof enough of that. They also had heard enough in that first studio date to realize his formula translated nicely from stage to wax, something not every good live artist was capable of doing. But the wider public reception outside of Louisiana was still up in the air.

Which is why the decision to cut Hey! La Bas Boogie was a rather odd one on the surface, a tune that had the potential to be confusing at best and off-putting at worse.

Though credited as a Bartholomew original, it was actually a Creole song of indeterminate origins though it first was recorded in 1944 by The Creole Stompers, while Kid Ory And His Creole Jazz Band scored with it locally two years later.

Ory’s record as you might suspect is a very traditional New Orleans jazz rendition with Barney Bigard’s clarinet taking the prominent solo with Mutt Carey’s trumpet and Ory’s own trombone adding to the flavor throughout the record which requires subtitles for those unable to comprehend the dialect.

Though he was already shaping up to be a very good songwriter Bartholomew suddenly found himself heavily taxed for material after signing up to head Imperial Records rock output, as over the past six weeks he’d been penning songs for Tommy Ridgley, Jewel King and now Fats as well, not to mention his own ongoing recording career. So it was perfectly understandable they looked to take a few shortcuts, either by writing about personal themes, such as with Hideaway Blues, named after the club where Domino made his name, or by adapting songs floating around the Crescent City.

When Domino’s brother-in-law, Harrison Verrett, suggested this song – as Verrett had played it when he was with Papa Celestin’s band a few years earlier – it’s hardly surprising that Dave knew it and went along with the idea, reshaping it for a new audience.

But while the local rock fans might know of its history, chances are the larger world they were about to try and conquer had no idea of where something like this could have emerged from.

Standing At The Spiritual Crossroads
No city in America has as rich and distinctive a cultural history as New Orleans. If America itself is a melting pot of all different cultures then New Orleans is the ladle sticking out of that pot, scooping out the most diverse ingredients and mixing them together in a way that somehow winds up tasting great in spite of the raging ethical conflicts that brought many of them together in the first place.

As the entry point for much of the slave trade the negative implications become mountainous in any look back at the city’s history, but through that horror came a fierce determination by the indentured populace to create a cultural identity to both ease their mental anguish and if possible to act as a psychological weapon against their oppressors.

The result was the mystic arts… voodoo, shaman, spiritual overseers of all sorts, a potpourri of religious and demonic influences that provided some sense of protection from the evils around them.

Foremost in this movement was Papa Legba, a canonical figure in Haitian voodoo (Haiti, of course, was the most notorious slave trading post in history and the one place on earth in which the enslaved led a successful revolt). Papa Legba is what’s known as an intermediary, a communicator between earthly inhabitants and the spirit world and thus for those who put their faith in such things, he was the one who they felt most connected to.

That’s surely where the song’s origins lay but by the time it filtered down to the mid-Twentieth Century only the rough pronunciation remained, as the lyrics to Hey! La Bas Boogie – (or at least Ory’s longer version) – primarily have to do with food, not sorcery, and the title itself is loosely translated to “Hey, you over there!

But that of course wouldn’t be known to virtually anyone outside of Louisiana, nor would the possible deeper connection to something more darkly insidious, and instead you’re left with Domino singing something that is engaging but utterly indecipherable, hardly the avenue for widespread interest, thereby all but ensuring this would be a strong local seller that fell flat everywhere else.

That’s a shame too, because while you may not be able to understand the words, the music that accompanies it needs absolutely no translation.


Hey!… Eh?
Listening to the Kid Ory version from four years earlier and the way that Bartholomew overhauled it here it’s hard to imagine those two were speaking the same musical language.

Domino’s Hey! La Bas Boogie is about as high-octane a rocker as can be found in 1950, an epic throw-down featuring the entire band relentlessly churning with each part seamlessly interlocking until the entire track seems ready to blast into space.

It starts off modestly enough – at least in terms of arranging – as Fats plays a throbbing boogie with his left hand on piano before adding a few flourishes with his right. Like most well-played piano boogies it’s invigorating and somewhat contagious in the proper environment, but as of yet there’s nothing to make it stand out from so many other similar performances.

The vocal chanting that follows gives it character, as Fats sings the the title line and the band answers him in a galvanizing back and forth exchange, ramping up the excitement but still keeping a lid on it to a certain degree.

But when the horns jump into the fray then the song boils over, four saxophones and Bartholomew’s trumpet riffing on top of one another, Herb Hardesty’s tenor taking the lead while Joe Harris, Clarence Hall and Red Tyler create their own cacophony behind it.

As wild as it is it doesn’t last as long as you’d expect as instead they bow out to let Fats start to improvise, his left hand having never deviated for a second from locking down the rhythm during all the joyous commotion created by the others. He starts slowly at first before playing his favorite descending teardrop fill and then tap-dancing back down the scale. After that interlude the horns come back en masse, just riffing on the same two notes but with a gradually increased pace so it seems as if it’s climbing into the clouds.

When they finally circle back down and close it out you’re almost exhausted just from listening. If you were in a club dancing to it and managed to keep pace you’d probably need to go outside and get some air and that’s the magic of a record like this… replicating a live experience in a sterile environment, something that nobody in rock to date was shaping up to do better than this band with Domino anchoring it from the piano stool.


Venez Mon Cher
For Imperial Records it’d be hard to envision how something this infectious couldn’t be a widespread hit, especially after the public latched onto Domino’s first record so wholeheartedly.

Since the band featured prominently on that was well it probably was also difficult to comprehend why audiences largely avoided Hey! La Bas Boogie.

True enough it featured less of Fats voice than you might like, and when he was singing you couldn’t comprehend what he was saying (“Come my dear”), but you’d have to be deaf and dumb not to understand what the song was implying.

This was the epitome of a raucous good time, whether that was attributable to the food and drink that form the basis of the Creole lyrics from the longer Ory version of the song, or if it was thanks to the celebration of a spiritual connection as the original source reference might imply, or simply the freedom being expressed by the best musicians in rock cutting loose and inviting everyone within earshot to join in.

As commercial records go maybe this missed its mark ever so slightly, but as an authentic representation of a free-for-all party fueled by rock ‘n’ roll this was hard to beat.


(Visit the Artist page of Fats Domino for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)