Dec. 28, 2015 01:40 PM

You may know him as the intrepid independent journalist who covers state government with his Louisiana Voice website, but Tom Aswell is also an accomplished music writer.

In Louisiana Rocks!, Aswell traces the early stepping stones of rock and roll that stars like Elvis trod to immortal fame. This premise is not a new one – books of this kind have been penned for decades. What sets Aswell’s effort apart is it all starts in Louisiana – and not just the Louisiana Hayride beaming from Shreveport.

In the book, Aswell looks at the formative sounds, songs, singers, songwriters and studio men (and women) that helped create the worldwide genre. For him, it all started at a site in New Orleans deserved of enshrinement: Cosimo Matassa’s J & M Studios. Aswell kicks off the book by making a terribly strong argument for Matassa’s getting his own wing in in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his studio work that helped introduce Fats Domino to the world and saw pre-fame sessions by Ray Charles.

He details how Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” gave the genre it’s name (he lived in Eunice as a boy and recorded at J & M). He unveils Fats’ influence on Beatles – his was the first rock song George Harrison ever heard and the first song John Lennon learned to play. From there he goes into individual profiles of Louisiana stars – from Leadbelly to Jimmie Davis – who nurtured the genre. He swings through Cajun, swamp pop and zydeco to include its key players and some 300 bios of Louisiana artists.

If you could put together a soundtrack to the book, what songs would it include?
“Blueberry Hill,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” “The Things I Used to Do,” “Hit the Road Jack,” “Sea of Love,” “I’m Leaving It All Up to You,” “This Should Go On Forever,” “A Golden Tear,” “Stagger Lee,” “Tutti Fruiti,” “Shake Rattle and Roll,” any song by Johnny Rivers, Abraham, Martin and John, “Last Date,” “Four Walls,” “Hello Walls,” “Ring of Fire,” “That’s All Right Mama,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” Me and Bobby McGee,” “Time is on My Side,” “What a Wonderful World,” something by Mahalia Jackson, “Jole Blon,” “Louisiana Man,” “House of the Rising Sun” and the list goes on … too many to list, really.

What is the most interesting thing you learned while researching the book?
The sheer number of singers, songwriters, players, etc. that are from Louisiana and the impact Louisiana has had on popular music.

(I am pretty sure I know who you are going to say, but) Who is the most important figure in Louisiana music and why?
Cosimo Matassa. End of story. Because of the number of major artists he introduced to the world through his little studio.

If you could book a show with any living or dead Louisiana musician, who would it be?
Three people: Hank Williams, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Why is Louisiana so often overlooked in rock and roll history?
Because this state has done a lousy job of exploiting our musical heritage. If you go to 706 Union Ave. in Memphis, you find the old Sun Records studio that has been converted into a museum. You can purchase caps, T-shirts, coffee mugs and reproductions of all those wonderful Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash records. If you go to the original Cosimo Matassa studio on LaSalle Street, you find a laundromat. There are a few photos of the artists placed above the clothes dryers, but that’s it. We have ignored our wonderful musical heritage.


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