Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Dave Bartholomew and Ralph Bass

Inducting New Orleans writer-arranger Bartholomew and master producer Bass

Dave Bartholomew with his orchestra. Circa 1948. Credit: Gilles Petard/Redferns/Getty

Dave Bartholomew and Ralph Bass are two of the great starmakers of early rock & roll, master talent scouts and prolific producers who left their own indelible stamp on pop-music history. Bartholomew introduced young America to the sass and swing of New Orleans rhythm & blues as the co-writer and producer of Fats Domino's biggest hits. During a lengthy career as a producer and A&R man for the Savoy, King, Federal and Chess labels, Bass was instrumental in the discovery or recording of blues and R&B legends like James Brown, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Johnny Otis, Little Esther Phillips, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

Dave Bartholomew was born on Christmas Eve 1920, in Edgard, Louisiana, about thirty miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Following in the footsteps of his father, a Dixieland tuba player, Bartholomew played trumpet in a number of top Crescent City marching and jazz bands before forming his own group in the mid-Forties with such future session giants as saxophonist Alvin "Red" Tyler, guitarist Ernest McLean and drummer Earl Palmer. After releasing a few unsuccessful records on the DeLuxe label, Bartholomew signed with Imperial. In December 1949 he caught Antoine "Fats" Domino playing at a local club and rushed him into the studio. The result was Domino's 1950 debut hit, "The Fat Man."

Over the next decade, Bartholomew and Domino cooked up a delicious gumbo of bluesy grit, New Orleans locomotion and buoyant rock & roll spirit that yielded a string of immortal hits, including "I'm Walk-in'," "Blueberry Hill," "Blue Monday," "Ain't That a Shame" and "Walkin' to New Orleans." In 1956 and 1957, the team of Bartholomew-Domino racked up no less than seventeen entries in Billboard's Hot 100. Bartholomew was also active as a solo recording artist ("Shrimps and Gumbo," "The Monkey Speaks His Mind," the original version of "My Ding-a-ling") and as a producer of other New Orleans greats, among them Lloyd Price, Shirley and Lee, Frankie Ford, Huey 'Piano" Smith and Smiley Lewis. Although he retired from full-time studio work in the late Sixties, Bartholomew continued touring during the Seventies as a bandleader with his most famous discovery.

During the Fifties and Sixties, Ralph Bass was one of the most successful producers and talent spotters in the independent record industry. Born May 1st, 1911, the Bronx native was already a veteran of the West Coast postwar blues and jazz scenes – having recorded T-Bone Walker, Dexter Gordon and Erroll Garner, among others – when he landed a job in 1948 at Savoy Records, where he racked up rhythm & blues chart hits with Johnny Otis, Little Esther Phillips and Big Jay McNeely.

In 1951, Bass was hired by Syd Nathan of King Records. For the next seven years, he made R&B history with hit records from Hank Ballard and the Midnighters (the risqué classic "Work With Me, Annie"), the Dominoes ("Sixty Minute Man") and Little Willie Littlefield (the original "Kansas City," a.k.a. "K.C. Lovin' "). Bass signed James Brown to King in 1956, narrowly beating Leonard Chess to the punch by driving to Macon, Georgia, through torrential rain after hearing a demo of "Please, Please, Please." Ironically, within two years, Bass was over at Chess Records, where he worked with an extraordinary range of artists – from R&B belter Etta James and comedienne Moms Mabley to gospel great Clara Ward and blues gods Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson – until 1976, when he retired in the wake of the label's dissolution.